Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 5 Recap: The Beautiful Game....(and running behind, more later)

Tactics.  In most sports they matter.  At this level they really matter.  Most of the players are well-known not only to each other, but more importantly to the technical directors, coaches, managers, skippers--whatever you want to call the guy(s) on the sidelines devising the plan.  The goal is always the same.  Impose your style of play on the game.  While a team will not always have the superior talent, it can still dictate the tempo and pace of the match, looking to magnify strengths while exploiting perceived weaknesses in the opponent.  Basketball and football have similar goals, but the constant stopping and starting of the action bring a different structure to the games.

Brazil v. North Korea, Ellis Park, Johannesburg--The Most Intriguing Match

Brazil is the one side in the world that never worries about its opponents style.  They play The Beautiful Game, Joga Bonito, and expect the results to come.  As a nation they have an indomitable belief, supported by five World Cup titles, in their superior talent.  It is telling that one of the huge debates in Brazil running up to the Cup was whether manager Dunga's emphasis on defense would take the joy out of winning.

Rest assured it did not.  Nor did it take the beauty out of the game.  Brazil is the favorite regardless of what Spain shows Wednesday.  Skillful throughout the side, they passed the ball beautifully and attacked with flair.  It really can put a smile on your face watching the joy and the passion with which they play the game.

North Korea brought intrigue.  I wrote about it here.  In recent years they have done well internationally in youth tournaments.  Now some of those players have come of age and they qualified the side for the first time since 1966.  It was expected they would rely on a staunch defense and try not to embarrass themselves.

They did think defense first and they did it well.  The Koreans played with five in the backline, three of which were central defenders.  In front of that they had three midfielders who sat very deep--effectively employing eight defenders along with two front-runners.  Brazil came out in their favored 4-2-3-1 with Luis Fabiano up top and Real Madrid star Kaka slotted in behind, and, as expected, the Brazilians controlled the game in the first half.  But even the Selecao can be a bit cautious in the first half of their first World Cup match and the North Koreans were very well organized and defended superbly.  The teams went to the dressing rooms 0-0.

The Brazilians dominated possession attacking both inside with short passing and, as the second half unfolded, overlapping with their outside backs in an attempt to open the North Korean defense.  In the 55' it paid off as right back Maicon took a perfecly weighted pass from Elano along the endline and ripped a right-footed shot that eluded keeper Ri Myong-Guk.  It's debatable whether his intent was to shoot or cross, but either way it counts.  Were it not Brazil or a less-skilled player it would be a lucky goal.  In this case it may well have been grand design.

The incessant pressure certainly wore down the game Korean defenders and in the 72' Elano got his own on a perfect ball from Robinho and the samba began.  North Korea got a good goal in the 89' (pictured at top) and it was well-deserved.  Jong Tae-se, one of only three North Korea players to play out of the country, headed back to Ji Yun-nam and after a great first touch he beat Julio Cesar to the right.  Joy in Pyongyang as it was reported the home side won 29-0.  The final whistle saw 2-1 as the actual scoreline.

Brazil is worth watching every match.  They rarely disappoint.  Every pass seems perfectly-weighted, every run well-timed.  Certainly their was room for improvement as Kaka, the playmaker in the middle was off-form, still recovering from injury.  On the flip side North Korea will give Portugal and the Ivory Coast much more than they bargained for.  The have proven capable defenders and dangerous on the counterattack.  Ivory Coast's size and style of play may prove more troublesome for the Koreans, but I wouldn't be surprised if they got a result against either side.

I'll try to post more later in the day, but you'll have to go to the site to see it.  Thanks.

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