JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Dunga’s Brazil have often looked at a loss when trying to break down packed defenses and facing the mystery men from North Korea in their opening Group G game at Ellis Park Tuesday could be their worst nightmare.
Brazil were held 0-0 at home by Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela in the World Cup qualifiers, each time struggling against ultra-defensive teams, and are set to face more of the same against North Korea, the lowest ranked of the 32 finalists.
Few teams can have prepared so long for a game as the side from the hermit state, who have spent more than four months together in a training marathon which has taken them to Sri Lanka, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Mexico and Venezuela.
The latter included a bizarre friendly with the Venezuelans which lasted only 80 minutes after kicking off two hours late, the Koreans saying it was too hot at the original start time.
Their luggage was mislaid so they had to borrow Venezuela’s all-white second strip.
With all but three of their players based at home, Korean coach Kim Jong-Hun has been free to organize his team’s preparations without the hindrance of club commitments.
The North Koreans, playing their first World Cup match since losing 5-3 to Portugal in the 1966 quarter-final, are tenacious, fit and defensive-oriented, say coaches who have studied them.
“They defend very well, create a lot of complications and are very fast on the counter-attacks,” Paraguay’s Gerardo Martino said after his team beat North Korea 1-0 in a friendly in Switzerland last month.
“Nobody talks about them but they play good football and physically are very fit. They have been in a training camp for six months maybe,” added Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose Ivory Coast team are also in Group G.
“You don’t see them getting tired. Even in the second half, they just go on,” said the Swede.
Five-times world champions Brazil have enjoyed some stunning results under coach Dunga, including three wins over Argentina and a 4-0 demolition of Uruguay in Montevideo, but have always looked more comfortable playing on the counter-attack.
“We expect to play against defensive opponents, which always causes difficulty, and because its the first game, the anxiety is very great,” said midfielder Gilberto Silva.
Anxious to atone for their poor showing four years ago when they lost 1-0 to France in the quarter-finals, Brazil will depend heavily on the form of Kaka, who had a checkered first season with Real Madrid.
There has been some criticism of their warm-up program which took them to Zimbabwe and Tanzania where conditions were very different to the cool and dry atmosphere of Johannesburg.
“We’re preparing for the cold and played Tanzania in unbearable heat,” complained fullback Dani Alves.
Editing by Ken Ferris