Cigarette in hand, this Ronaldinho resembled a beach ball by the media area at Ellis Park. Inside, a man and a woman happily posed with their backs to the camera showing the shirt conspicuous by its absence in Carlos Dunga's scheme of things. The closest to the footballer with flowing locks and a perpetual smile though was a cut-out held proudly aloft. If the spirit of Mandela, according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, was at Soccer City on Friday, Ronaldinho ruled the terraces here on Tuesday. Or the Brazil flag, worn like a poncho, perhaps because patriotic fervour too helps combat near-zero temperatures on a windy evening.
To the twinkle of innumerable flashbulbs, the five-time champions entered the arena, the players wearing team jackets and Dunga in an overcoat. Their national anthem rang out loud from the stands which had 54,331 people. "Goooo Braziiil!" screamed the lady three rows behind us. Opposite, a huge yellow team shirt spread across the length of the lower tier was unfurled. Four hours before kick-off, it was difficult to spot faces which weren't painted yellow and green. Or find people not wearing jumpers or jackets that made no mention of the Selecao. Asking around how far they thought Brazil would go became fruitless after a while because they all said the same thing: we will go home with the cup. Trust them to make an already vibrant tournament come alive even more.
N. Korea fans cheered from a little corner inside the stadium. Like their team this handful stubbornly refused to be cowed down by the mass and volume of support for their opponents.
As Brazil struggled to break N. Korea's doughty defence, apprehension replaced applause. Vuvuzelas resumed normal service and appreciation, even if grudging, grew for the red shirts about whom little is known and less heard.
Honours even between teams separated by 104 slots on the latest FIFA rankings list and with Jong Tae Sae showing why he is called the Asian Rooney, Brazil walked back at half-time to boos. The mood changed after Maicon struck and Elano's goal restored the spirit of celebration. Undaunted, Korea pressed for their first goal in a WC finals in 44 years. Ji Yun Nam, one of the seven April 25 club players on the roster, got that with a move and a finish any Brazilian would have been proud of. But with full points from their first match, Brazil are on their way. Missed for some time in the first half, maybe it won't be so bad if Ronaldinho stays in the stands.