JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Twice, Brazil was brilliant, and it was enough to edge North Korea 2-1 in a first-round World Cup match.
Maicon and Elano scored a goal apiece in the second half and Brazil finally broke through a solid North Korea defense on a frigid Tuesday night. Brazil escaped with a hard-fought victory in the Group G match after struggling to get past the conservative setup of the North Koreans, who are making their first World Cup appearance in 44 years and arrived as the tournament's lowest-ranked team.
"It wasn't our best match, but at least we got the win, that's what matters now," Robinho said after setting up the second goal.
Maicon put Brazil ahead in the 55th minute after a through ball from midfielder Elano, making a run on the right side and firing into the far corner from a tight angle as North Korea goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk went for the cross.
Elano then added to the lead in the 72nd after a well-timed pass from Robinho, finding the net with a one-timer from inside the penalty area.
Ji Yun Nam scored for North Korea in the 89th minute in 34-degree temperatures with a wind-chill of 24.
The victory gave five-time champion Brazil first place in the group after Portugal and the Ivory Coast drew 0-0 earlier Tuesday. Brazil has won all its opening matches since a 1-1 draw with Sweden in the 1978 World Cup.
"The opener is always harder," Brazil coach Dunga said. "There is the anxiety, the players are more nervous than usual, trying to do too much. But we are satisfied."
Brazil controlled possession from the start, but struggled to break through the Korean lineup that had five men on the back line. Robinho was about the only Brazilian able to create dangerous opportunities. He took advantage of his nifty skills to give Brazil its first chance just two minutes into the match, using a step-over move to clear a defender and set up Kaka inside the area. But Kaka didn't get off a shot as An Yong Hak stole the ball.
Robinho had his own chance with a long-range shot that missed in the seventh minute and with a quick strike from inside the area that was saved by Ri in the 20th. Robinho beat a defender again inside the area in the 34th and set up Michel Bastos' shot that missed over the crossbar.
The defensive-minded North Koreans played with only Japan-based Jong Tae Se in attack, but he was able to cause some problems to the Brazilian defense.
The Koreans also had chances with a few long-range shots.
Brazil continued to dominate in the second half and finally broke through thanks to a brilliant pass by Elano to Maicon. Elano than sealed the victory after his run behind the defenders.
But the North Koreans gave Brazil a scare when Ji connected in the last minutes. The Koreans could not find another goal.
"It is important to start with a victory and we did it," Maicon said. "It was a good step toward our goal of being in the final on July 11."
North Korea is hoping to repeat its showing of 1966, when it produced a surprising win over Italy to reach the quarterfinals. The Koreans arrived as the most mysterious squad in the tournament, with opponents having a hard time finding information about the team from the reclusive communist state.
"I thought we fought bravely. We defended very well," North Korea coach Kim Jong Hun said. "I think we gained a lot of experience and, for the remaining two games, we have gained confidence."