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A North block awaits

sports Updated: Jun 15, 2010 01:40 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Three days after Diego Maradona debuted as World Cup coach, Carlos Dunga begins his journey in the tournament he too won as a captain. It is difficult to think of more memorable moments in the history of Ellis Park between now and when South Africa won the rugby World Cup, in 1995.

From their plush resort on the rolling Randburg golf course — where a horde of media gathered despite only being allowed view their prey from far, not too different from being in a watch tower in an Indian or South African reserve forest — Brazil travelled some 60km to train here on Monday evening.

From the elevated Ellis Park stands, the media, some 800 of them have come from Brazil alone, peered for a closer look. Their keep-ball session was studded with graceful flicks and when they played for a while, Grafite, who isn't even likely to start, scored with a stunning scissor-kick. When not playing their own version of the one-touch game with Claudio Taffarel and another member of the support staff, Dunga watched from the sideline.

Between Brazil and North Korea, against whom they start on Tuesday, there is a gap of 104 slots in the FIFA rankings. But all those who think Brazil just have to show up for full points will do well to remember that the only other time North Korea played the World Cup finals, they took England by storm. Italy were stunned and Portugal trailed by three goals before Eusebio decided enough was enough.

“I was 10 then but that '66 show continues to inspire us,” said North Korea coach Kim Jong-hun. He accepted that, at least on paper, they can't even be compared to Brazil, but seemed to suggest that football isn't played on paper.

“For us and them, three points are important and we will put up a fight. All those who think we will play defensively, should be told that we also know how to attack,” said Kim, adding that they have sought inspiration from Park Doo-ik and his mates, who stunned the world in England.

Also, since they beat Czechoslovakia 4-1 in 1970, Brazil haven't won their first round match at the finals by more than one goal.

But with Dunga in charge, with Kaka looking fit and the rest of the squad in good spirits 24 hours before they kick off the campaign for a sixth World Cup title, that could change.

Carlos Alberto Parreira, South Africa's coach, thinks Brazil are ready.

“Brazil have got it just right to win the World Cup. I've been keenly watching them for the last few months. I am not saying Brazil are ready to go to South Africa and play especially good football but I can say they are ready to go there and win,” he had stated in a recent interview.

Brazil and most of the neutral followers of this World Cup will hope he is right.