Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
JOHANNESBURG -- On a freezing night in Johannesburg's Ellis Park, where the wind chill dipped temperatures into the 20s, North Korea improbably kept Brazil at bay for 55 minutes, when it conceded a goal by Maicon. His was a brilliant goal, made from an impossibly small angle. Nevertheless, North Korea gave away no more than two real chances, one of which was shanked by Luis Fabiano, the other slipped home by Elano. Ji Yun Nam, meanwhile, saved North Korea's honor with an 89th-minute blast.
This game, between the biggest of knowns and the biggest of unknowns, showed us that Brazil has some work to do. Certainly, playing against a team that would park two buses if it could -- on one Brazilian free kick, the North Koreans put all 10 field players in the wall -- isn't easy, but Brazil failed to exploit what space it did get, and it was only infrequently able to put target man Luis Fabiano into a position where he could be useful.
Credit to North Korea. Alternating between an 8-1-1 and a 5-3-2 formation, the North Koreans clogged space for playmaker Kaka and for Luis Fabiano. They also showed themselves to be savvy on the counterattack, capable of inflicting damage on an opponent with a lesser defense. Especially defenses that easily tire -- the North Koreans proved to be fitter than the Brazilians, impressive since they spent much of the game chasing the ball.
It took Brazil until the 70th minute or so to learn how to pass and cut its way through the North Korean defense. Before that, Brazil's players appeared to be operating in different gears. Brazil under coach Dunga has specialized in sitting back and playing on the counterattack through Kaka. But this approach might not be the way to go against the defensive style we've seen so far in the tournament. Perhaps Brazil will once again have to learn to hold the ball and zip it around until an opening is found.
For Brazil, only Maicon, Lucio and Robinho showed themselves to be ready to make a run for the World Cup. The rest of the team is trailing behind. In Group G, there is no margin for error. And for Brazil to advance, it will have to reacquire the ability to ruthlessly pick apart a well-organized defense.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.