Three observations -- Brazil shuts out South Korea
MONTREAL, Quebec -- Marta became the first woman to have scored 15 World Cup goals, and Brazil opened its campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over South Korea.
But the five-time world player of the year had a lot to thank another record-breaker for, as Formiga became the oldest player (37 years, 98 days) to score in a World Cup, with an opportunistic goal to open the scoring in the first half, while also winning the second-half penalty that Marta converted.
In between, Brazil had played well within itself while demonstrating the range, if not yet the full effect, of what it can do. Other than dealing with some South Korea set pieces in the first half, the Brazil defense was not unduly stretched until late, when South Korea tried to chase the game, and the South Americans' attack was efficient in doing what was required for an opening-game win.
Both Brazil goals owed something to lapses in concentration and touch from the Koreans, who must now face a Costa Rica team that punished Spain earlier in the day for similar lapses. The Group E pack behind Brazil is set up for some intriguing games.
1. It's all about Marta
You have to look only at the promotional materials for the tournament to know how important Marta is.
And with her penalty goal in the 53rd minute, the game had one of its anticipated storylines, as the great Brazilian notched her 15th World Cup goal to put her out on her own as a goal scorer and place her in a select group of eight players who have scored in four World Cups.
Yet, even as her teammates clustered around her to celebrate, and Luciana, back in the Brazil goal, pointed her fingers to the heavens, there was a slight nagging feeling that a penalty looked like the most likely way Marta was going to get on the score sheet.
It wasn't that Marta played badly -- indeed as the game went on, you could see her finding her range with crisp passes behind the tiring Korean defense. It was just a modest outing by her standards, on a night where her overall performance was perhaps typified when the ball was taken off her toes as she went for a tap-in late one.
For once, other Brazilians caught the eye more in the run of play, whether that was Fabiana's thunderous, early shot off the crossbar from 40 yards or some sustained, attacking probing by Andressa Alves and Cristiane. The latter in particular barged through a forest of Korean players, in the move that led to the opening goal. Which brings us to Formiga ...
2. It's not all about Marta
Marta wasn't the only one breaking records. And if she was looking for someone who might appreciate her achievement of piling up her 15 goals, she could do worse than look to a player who remembers her when she didn't have any.
Formiga is 37 years and 98 days old, but as she gleefully raced in to score off an under-hit back pass in the 33rd minute, or pounced on another poor touch to win a penalty in the 53rd minute, the veteran of six World Cup finals (an honor she shares with Japan's Homare Sawa), looked more like the archetype of the teenager who plays without fear -- chasing apparently lost causes rather than pacing herself, and reaping the rewards.
Just as with Marta's performance, there were other elements of the night about which Formiga will be more ambivalent. A couple of loose touches in her own half might have been punished by more clinical finishers than this South Korean team. But that's partly a function of her position -- Formiga was also stepping up to break up plays all night, repeatedly setting up yet another passage of Brazilian approach play.
In the big picture, Marta will be the focus and will deservedly be praised for what she has done in World Cup history. But Formiga reminded us she's part of that picture, too, and has been since it was just a sketch.
3. South Korea's hunt for a win might not go on much longer
The word on this South Korean team is that it lacks ruthlessness in front of goal, and watching this game unfold, it's hard to argue with that assessment. If the abiding image of Korea's contribution to this game is the two under-hit passes that gifted Brazil both their goals, the secondary impression has to be of Korean forwards (particularly the tireless Ji) working their way into threatening positions and then either failing to get a shot off or hitting the ball high or wide.
And yet after failing to win a game in the team's only previous appearance at a World Cup, in 2003, South Korea can go into its remaining two games knowing it has played the toughest team in the group and is only a point behind two teams who must both face Brazil.
South Korea, in general, stacks up well against Spain and certainly Costa Rica, and for stretches of Tuesday night's game looked to be a technical and composed side, even when under pressure in its own half. Costa Rica may have demonstrated it is not just here to add fuel to the argument that the tournament has expanded too far, but South Korea will have more luck on its set pieces against it than it did against Brazil, while Spain's defense is there to be had at if South Korea can stick to its task.
A lot of eyes will be on Brazil against Spain in the next round of group play, but South Korea versus Costa Rica could yet have significant knock on effects for how the knockout rounds are set.