JOHANNESBURG: The extraordinary crush of media and fans’ expectations has exerted even more pressure on Brazil to get off to a flying start against North Korea in their World Cup opener on Tuesday.
Brazil go into their Group G match expected to come away with three points against the reclusive North Koreans in their first-ever encounter.
Brazil are ranked number one and North Korea, playing their first World Cup since their sensational debut in 1966, come in at 105, so the gulf between the rivals is monumental.
It is imperative that Brazil come away with nothing less than a win over North Korea as they have tough examinations to come in their ‘Group of Death’ against Portugal and Ivory Coast.
North Korea provide one of the intriguing stories of this World Cup.
It is their first World Cup tournament in 44 years when back in England they shocked the world with a 1-0 win over then two-time world champions Italy before going out after an epic 5-3 loss to Portugal in the quarter-finals.
The North Koreans go in with nothing to lose against the red-hot favorites, although there is a steely belief within the squad that they can prove an irritant to Brazil.
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert is confident that his players will not be struck by first night nerves as they seek to make World Cup history against Slovakia on Tuesday.
The All Whites are appearing in the finals for only the second time and, having lost all three matches in Spain in 1982, are still looking for a first point on football’s biggest stage.
Regarded as one of the weakest squads in the tournament, New Zealand will have their work cut out containing a talented Slovakia side that is making its first appearance in the finals as an independent nation.
Herbert’s options have been restricted by the loss of bustling midfielder Tim Brown, who will not be risked against the Slovakians as he completes his recovery from shoulder surgery at the end of May but should be available for the second group game against Italy.
In Brown’s absence, defender Ivan Vicelich is expected to bolster central midfield and will share responsibility for keeping tabs on Slovakia’s captain and playmaker, Marek Hamsik, with fellow veteran Simon Elliott.
The biggest question ahead of the Ivory Coast’s opening World Cup match against Portugal revolves around the fitness of injured striker Didier Drogba.
Drogba remains a doubtful starter after breaking his right arm in a friendly against Japan on June 4, and Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson can’t afford any risks on Tuesday against a powerful Portugal squad led by Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal is making its fifth appearance at the World Cup and its best performances were the semifinals in 1996 and 2006.
But Carlos Queiroz’s squad had trouble qualifying for South Africa 2010, and a loss to Ivory Coast would be a significant setback in its bid to advance to the second round.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, is among Africa’s best contenders for a second-round berth. The team has been invigorated since the arrival of Eriksson, who took England to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and 2006.