Day five of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was set to display six different nations in action.
Two powerhouses in Brazil and Portugal, two minnows in New Zealand and North Korea, and two question mark nations in Slovakia and the Ivory Coast.
Let's get to the match recaps and analyze how these nations did in their tournament openers.
New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia
Goals: Vittek 50' (Slovakia), Reid 90+3' (New Zealand)
Rustenburg, South Africa, was the host for the Group F action that matched up European squad Slovakia with the minnows from the Oceania qualifying zone, New Zealand.
The preliminary 20 minutes or so was shockingly controlled by the All Whites of New Zealand, who looked the side with better shape and more comfort on the pitch.
Slovakia began to put some pressure of their own on the All Whites in the 28th minute when Vladimir Weiss and Stanislav Sestak worked some nice passing to get Sestak into the area, only for him to smash an effort off the outside of the net, wide.
In the 38th minute, New Zealand responded with a chance of their own when Rory Fallon lobbed Chris Smeltz into the area behind the defence, off a tough angle on a one-two. Smeltz’s left-footed blast off the bounce was tipped wide on a nice save by Slovakia goalkeeper Jan Mucha.
At the half, the score remained 0-0. The possession was split evenly in the first half between these two nations, but Slovakia began to come on in the second portion of the half and looked to break through in the second half. New Zealand were happy with the score line and had confidence that more than a draw is possible.
The second half began, and Slovakia finally broke through in the 50th minute. Robert Vittek perfectly glanced a header on a fine ball from Stanislav Sestak into the side netting from just inside the penalty spot, giving Slovakia a valuable 1-0 lead.
The replay later showed that Vittek was a step offside, and this was extremely unfortunate for the Kiwis.
New Zealand failed to make much of their second half possession from that point, relying on aimlessly hit long-balls and rarely entering a threatening area.
In the 88th minute though, New Zealand had what really could be considered their only chance of the second half up to that point, when Tony Lochhead sent an accurate cross into the area, only for Chris Smeltz to misguide his open header wide of the target from just inside the penalty spot.
And just when all hope looked to be out the window for a plain New Zealand side, they came through with a shocking equalizer just at the death of stoppage time, thanks to a beautiful curved cross by Smeltz and a brilliant headed goal by defender Winston Reid into the side netting.
It ended the match dramatically in a 1-1 draw.
New Zealand will feel it was only right for them to earn at least a point with the late goal do to accurate claims for an offside on Slovakia’s goal. Some supporters of the All Whites will subscribe to the fact that, despite not being flashy at all, the Kiwis deserve a full three points, as they were the only squad to score a legitimate goal in the match.
Slovakia, on the other hand, will be embarrassed to start their first World Cup as an independent nation with a draw to what some may call the worst side in the tournament.
They may be the more technically gifted nation, but they couldn’t prove it in the scoreline on the night. They now find themselves with an uphill battle ahead, if they have plans on qualifying from the group stage.
Paraguay is next, and then an improving Italian squad will be the group decider.
Men of the Match
New Zealand: Winston Reid
Slovakia: Vladimir Weiss
Ivory Coast 0-0 Portugal
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, was buzzing and packed to capacity for one of the most highly anticipated matches of the World Cup group stage between the Ivory Coast and Portugal.
Cristiano Ronaldo wasted no time in introducing his presence at the World Cup. In the 11th minute, he unleashed a powerful 35-yard strike that rang the post and tensed Ronaldo up to a look of unluckiness.
In the 21st minute, a rather unfortunate occurrence happened when Ivory Coast defender Guy Demel looked to have taken down a streaking Ronaldo near the area by impeding the ground in his path, but the referee waved on play, ignoring Ronaldo’s claim for a free kick.
Ronaldo’s reputation for going down easily cost him in this instance, because he was clearly fouled. Demel felt otherwise though, as he had some words and a chest bump to offer Ronaldo for what he felt was simulation by the Portuguese superstar. Ronaldo responded back with some clear profanities, and the referee booked them both.
This was all that was needed to get the blood flowing and the emotional level high in this critical match.
But before you knew it, the match was back to guarded pace with both nations waiting for the match to come to them. Nothing new to this 2010 tournament, as the rest of the half was filled with hardly any legit chances, and both sides were feeling each other out cautiously in this critical encounter.
The Ivory Coast began to develop themselves as the more aggressive side after the initial Portuguese burst. In the 54th minute, Demel fed Salomon Kalou, whose side-footed effort was directly at the Portugal goalie, but provided a rare direct opportunity from just outside the area.
Despite the fact that there was only two shots on target through the first 55 minutes of play, there still was a scent in the air that it was only a matter of time until a goal would be created or executed because of the talent on the pitch.
That feeling rose even higher when the fast recovering Didier Drogba entered the match in the 66th minute along with some heavier rainfall.
The next 20 minutes remained surprisingly dull and safeguarded with hopes for a goal dwindling away along with the minutes.
The Ivory Coast did their best to fill stoppage time with a burst of attacking threats that had Portugal and their supporters holding their breath. In the first minute of added time, Drogba made a nice diagonal run into the area only to slide a pass across the goalmouth with no one on the other end to finish it off.
Other than that, it was just a bunch of gasps and spills with nothing noteworthy.
But the match finished scoreless, with both sides happy to take a point from this tight affair and leave their fate to be decided in their other two fixtures with Brazil and North Korea.
The Ivory Coast will leave this match getting more credit than their opponents but with the same number of points in the column after the scoreless draw. They will certainly be pleased with their defence, as they remained organized and compact, keeping Ronaldo and a sharp Portuguese attack shockingly quiet.
They will look to translate such a defensive performance against a Brazil side next and hope for a further-recovered Drogba to supply them with a more dangerous attack for more match time.
Portugal played nothing like the squad from four years ago that was voted the most exciting team to watch at Germany 2006. They struggled to dissect the Ivory Coast defence and could hardly enter their opponent’s area.
Portugal won’t make much of this match, as they will not see it as a setback, but rather a necessary step in preparing them for their next two matches that will be anything but similar with the importance of every goal at an alarmingly high level.
Men of the Match
Ivory Coast: Didier Zokora
Portugal: Raul Meireles
Brazil 2-1 Korea DPR
Goals: Maicon 55' (Brazil), Elano 72' (Brazil), Ji Yun-Nam 89' (Korea DPR)
The second match of the Group of Death took place in Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, fielding the No. 1-ranked Brazilian squad against another of the World Cup’s unknown minnows in Korea DPR, better known as North Korea.
The weather certainly stood out in the winter season, as the fans bundled up with the temperature dropping into the low 30s.
Shockingly for many, Brazil struggled to dismantle a tightly knit North Korea defence in the first half. Despite completely dominating possession and entering the North Korean area countless times, Brazil weren’t really peppering the goal and forcing the best out of the North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk.
The halftime score read 0-0 with many having to look twice in disbelief that the 105th ranked North Koreans not only withstood 45 minutes with Brazil, but also looked rather confident doing so, despite the obvious statistical deficits.
Brazil obviously took the locker room chat from manager Dunga to heart, as they came out in much hungrier fashion to start the second half.
And it paid dividends in the 55th minute when Brazil finally broke through to the relief of their awaiting supporters and manager, via the foot of defender Maicon.
Brazilian Elano played Maicon through on the right side. With the ball approaching the endline, Maicon blasted with the outside of his foot from the almost impossible angle catching the North Korean keeper aggressively out of position and drilling it through the near-post gap for the goal and the 1-0 lead for Brazil.
Some may question Maicon’s intent on the goal, but more questions should be directed at the overly aggressive keeper.
Brazil didn’t stop there, as they made sure to tack on some insurance in the 72nd minute. Robinho placed a precise through-ball across the North Korean defence, perfectly in stride to a streaking Elano, who calmly passed the ball into the net, beating a charging inexperienced keeper and giving Brazil the 2-0 lead.
This obviously wasn’t enough in Brazil’s mind, because they still continued to push forward, with even their central defender Lucio making runs up the pitch into their opponent’s area in search for more vital goals to boost the goal differential in the Group of Death.
This ended up backfiring on the Brazilians this time though. North Korean attacker Jong Tae-Se headed down nicely for teammate Ji Yun-Nam, who burst into the area with space and buzzed his shot by Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar, making the score 2-1 Brazil. That is exactly how this match finished.
Brazil may have not lived up to crazy expectations that called for a four-goal victory, but once they came out from the halftime break, there really wasn’t a doubt that they would eventually find a goal en route to victory.
The attack may have lacked width early on, but it eventually found its legs and solved a tough North Korean defence. The Brazil defence, on the other hand, was hardly tested in the back, but clearly contributed well to the attack with Maicon and Michel Bastos. The only gripe for Brazil is they were caught foolishly up the field late in the match, and it led to what has the potential to be a critical goal in the differential tiebreaker that may be called into play in the Group of Death.
North Korea and their supposed hired supporters will be proud of what will be considered an achievement just to hang with Brazil and only lose by a goal in this World Cup opener.
They managed to frustrate Brazil in the first half with a stingy defensive display and showed they have a striker up front who isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere in the attacking half. They will hope to continue their fight onto their other group fixtures in search of a point, or maybe even higher aspirations.
Men of the Match
Korea DPR: Jong Tae-Se
Goal of the Day
Winston Reid and his brilliant stoppage time header from a Chris Smeltz cross that salvaged the All Whites a draw, and kept their slim hopes of advancing on the world’s grandest stage alive.
Celebration of the Day
Winston Reid and his shirtless charge off the pitch, with a crowd of his teammates following, while he swung his jersey over his head in pure joy, celebrating the biggest goal of his career.
Mistake of the Day
The linesman’s missed offsides call on Slovakia’s goal. It may have only been a half step in the wrong, but that’s all it takes for a nation’s tournament to come to an end.
Also, the North Korean goalkeeper’s over-aggressiveness on the Maicon goal that opened the scoring for Brazil, and gave them the confidence to finally run North Korea away from any hopes of obtaining a shocking draw.
Ri clearly came too far off his line and left an unacceptably enormous gap at his near post.
Match of the Day
Today’s action started with Slovakia and New Zealand, which, despite not being two of the fanciest squads at this summer’s tournament, did manage to provide us with the most exciting finish thus far on a match-tying goal scored by New Zealand’s Winston Reid to put all squads in Group F even at a point.
Portugal and the Ivory Coats followed with a letdown of a match. Expectations really set it up for failure, and it was a cautious opening match. Brazil and North Korea made up for it though, with a surprisingly competitive match with three impressive goals.
Group F now looks to shape up nicely for Italy and Paraguay. Group G really has yet to tell us anything except that Portugal and the Ivory Coast must not take North Korea lightly, or they could be sent home earlier than expected.
New Zealand 1
Ivory Coast 1
Korea DPR 0