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Can Brazil open its campaign in strong form?

June 15, 2010
By Rachel Ullrich
ESPN.com
(Archive)

What's on the line

Brazil is the heavy favorite in this match, which pits FIFA's highest-ranked team against the lowest-ranked squad to make the tournament (North Korea is 105th). The score line might not be a huge question, but this is the World Cup debut of Dunga's "new-look" Brazil. A convincing win against the minnows of the group would do a lot to validate Brazil's title aspirations.

Style and tactics

Brazil has won five titles using its trademark brand of entertaining, offensive football -- Joga Bonito -- but the squad will aim for No. 6 using Dunga's no-nonsense approach: Winning matters above all else. It infuriates many fans and pundits, but in a tournament such as the World Cup, a workmanlike approach might come in handy. Especially true when that defense also includes wingbacks like Dani Alves and Maicon, who are as much a threat up top as on the back line. And Brazil's style is not so different from that of years past -- yes, there are two holding midfielders, but the squad really uses a fairly standard 4-2-3-1 formation and has no problem pushing its wide men forward.

Not much is known about North Korea, due to the secrecy surrounding the country and the squad's limited FIFA schedule. But the North Koreans are expected to park the bus in front of goal against the Selecao, likely using a 5-4-1 and staying back deep, occasionally trying to threaten Brazil's goal on a counterattack.

Players to watch

Kaka has been Brazil's midfield maestro for years, but this is the first World Cup in which he will be relied upon almost solely. The exclusion of playmaker Ronaldinho means Kaka is the real magician of the Brazilian squad, despite his questionable form and injury-ridden season at Real Madrid. His first club season in Spain ended without a single trophy.

Maicon always provides a spark from the back and is an unbelievable threat on the wing for Brazil, and Robinho and Luis Fabiano can deliver electrifying goals.

North Korea striker Jong Tae Se is a fan favorite in the country and is known as North Korea's Wayne Rooney. He's one of the top scorers in Japan's J-League and had a trial at a Premier League club last summer. He's North Korea's best hope to get on the board.

What we can expect

Brazil should be able to put on a clinic. Kaka and Robinho will be looking to improve their international pedigrees after mixed results in their club seasons. North Korea will likely pack its back third with players, so Brazil's ability to conjure up some of that old creativity to find openings will be key.

Intangibles

No one is predicting North Korea to pull an upset -- except North Korea. Jong Tae Se says the team believes it can beat the Selecao. Delusional? Perhaps, but the squad has history on its side. North Korea has won just one World Cup game in its history, but it was one of the most famous upsets ever. In 1966 -- the last time a North Korean team competed in the finals -- the squad stunned Italy 1-0 and almost beat Portugal in the quarterfinals. Another upset against Brazil would turn the footballing world on its head.

Who'll win

Brazil, easily. The only question will be how many the Selecao score. Dunga knows that in a group as tight as this, the difference between first and second might come down to goal differential, so he'll be unlikely to discourage scoring despite his defensive tendencies.

Rachel Ullrich is an editor for ESPN.com.