We continued marching on through the opening matches, going from the easiest group in the Cup – Group F – to the hardest group, known as the “Group of Death”: Group G.
Slovakia 1, New Zealand 1
New Zealand’s All-Whites were, essentially, just happy to be here. The country’s only previous World Cup appearance came in 1982, where they lost three straight games by a combined score of 12-2. While I still don’t expect them to move on to the second round, they didn’t embarrass themselves playing against Slovakia (making its maiden appearance). They went to half-time even at 0-0, and while they conceded a goal early in the second half, they managed to stay in it – until lightning struck in the shape of Wilson Reid. So, they have a well-earned point in the group, and likely one of the few highlights of their campaign.
Portugal 0, Cote D’Ivoire 0
Yeah, that’s about as eloquent as I’m going to get about this match. Just a dreary, grim, soul-crushing display of everything that’s negative about soccer. This match had two highlights, if you can call them that – Cristiano Ronaldo barely missing a long strike off the post midway through the first half, and Didier Drogba missing a shot in stoppage time.
Other than that, nothing. I’m not kidding – ESPN play-by-play man Ian Darke just ripped the Portuguese at the end of the first half. The match was best summed up by my Portuguese cousin, who IM’ed me to say that he thought Portugal was so bad, he was thinking of passing as Brazilian.
Cote D’Ivoire was better, and dominated the match in my opinion, but if either play the way they did against North Korea, I’m not sure that the North Koreans don’t beat them. I’m not kidding.
Brazil 2, North Korea 1
You’ve already read my take on North Korea (hint: I think the leadership’s evil, and it’s a tragic story all around). Now to the game.
Going in, I think everyone expected Brazil to just shellack the North Koreans. More to the point: after a first four days notable only for the preponderance of scoreless draws, I think everyone desperately needed the Seleçao to score often, and stylishly.
Thanks to a stifling, splendid North Korean defense, they didn’t do that. But the two times they did score, they did so with panache – particularly the second time.
However, where other sides might have wilted, the North Koreans stood fast – and in the 89th minute, pulled one goal back, with one of the better goals I’ve seen in this World Cup.
Given the North Korean defensive prowess, and their willingness to attack in a disciplined manner, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them stun Portugal or the Ivory Coast. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the second place finisher was North Korea, after the stink bomb of a game that Portugal and Cote D’Ivoire laid earlier.