Mexico 2-0 France
Argentina 4-1 South Korea
Greece 2-1 Nigeria
Well, that answers that. Any questions about Diego Mardona’s reign as the manager of Argentina were temporarily silenced today after an absolutely dominant performance against South Korea. I questioned Maradona’s decision making and, coming into today’s match, it seemed I was right; after what I considered an awful opening match against Nigeria, Juan Sebastian Veron was unable to play today, leaving a gaping hole at holding midfielder that should have belonged to Esteban Cambiasso but which fell to Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez instead. It also forced Maradona to make some changes, and he came up trumps; instead of a flat midfield, Maradona set up a diamond with Messi behind Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain and the change, which brought Messi much deeper into the play, freed up the attack, allowing Messi to make long, dangerous runs right through the heart of the South Korean midfield. He ended up playing a part in every one of Argentina’s four goals, one of which was a Messi free kick put in by South Korean defender Park Chu-Young and the other three scored by a clinical Gonzalo Higuain, who profited from some beautiful service and even a ricochet off of the goalpost, which fell right to his feet. Higuain’s hat trick was the icing on a beautiful performance by a rampant Messi, who has been electric in his first two matches without scoring a goal. Only a mistake by Martín Demichelis, who was caught dwindling on the ball by South Korean attacker Lee Chung-Yong, allowing Chung-Yong to finish alone on goal, proved a blemish on an otherwise spotless performance. Still, you have to give credit where it is due; whether things will go his way in the later rounds remains to be seen, but Maradona made a nice tactical choice today and it paid off in spades. Argentina are all but through to the knockout stages now, but will Maradona take his foot off the gas and let his team cruise into he next round? It doesn’t seem to be his nature, but it might be the most prudent choice for a team full of players coming off of a very long, difficult professional season. I’m guessing Milito and Aguero up top against Greece but who knows; the unknowable Maradona makes Argentina a scary proposition for any team.
Messi Drives Argentina To Victory (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
If you ever doubt that a single moment of madness can change the fate of entire nation’s fortunes, I refer you to this famous moment in World Cup history…
Zizou’s Final Action
In the 33rd minute of today’s Nigera vs Greece match, with Nigeria leading 1-0 (thanks to a brilliant free kick from Kalu Uche) and looking likely to be in the match until the death, midfielder Sani Kaita had a moment that will live in Nigerian football infamy; with the ball out of play and in the arms of Greece’s Vasilis Torosidis, Kaita took a small shove in his chest and responded by kicking his studs into Torosidis’ thigh. Torosidis looked around for a moment and then grabbed his leg and fell to the ground as if he had been shot by a sniper; while no one was buying Torosidis’ con, referee Oscar Ruiz had no choice but to send Kaita off, reducing Nigeria to ten men. They did not fare well; Dimitrios Salpingidis etched his name in marble with a 44th minute drive that was deflected in off of the foot of Lukman Haruna and into the far corner, giving Greece their first ever goal in the World Cup. Greece spent the second half knocking on the door, slipping up only on a brilliant counter-attack from the NIgerians that saw Yakubu well saved by the left hand of Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas, until finally Greece broke through; Alexandros Tziolis drove the ball on goal, which the otherwise excellent Vincent Enyeama spilled in front of him, allowing Vasilis Torosidis to somehow overcome the pain of Kaita’s red card boot to his thigh and sprint onto the rebound, tucking it away and giving Greece their first ever win in a World Cup match. It was no less than they deserved as, holding a man advantage for over an hour of game time, Greece finally opened up and attacked, pulling a defender in favor of Georgios Samaras and playing a back three against Yakubu, who spent most of the game stranded up top. The Greeks attacked in waves and with Nigeria always ready at the counter, the game turned from a dour, chippy affair into a real wide open game that entertained despite the Greek advantage.
The Agony Of The Feet: Kaita Makes A Huge Mistake
With the Greeks and Argentines winning, second place in Group B is still up for grabs; Argentina on six points and +4 in goal differential are in the catbird seat and playing Greece next, who likely need a draw or a win to get into the knockout stages with a -1 goal differential. South Korea, on three points like Greece but also with a -1 goal differential, may qualify with a draw but likely will be playing to win. Nigeria, with a -2 goal differential, need Greece to lose big and to beat South Korea big. If Greece lose, South Korea move on with a draw, Nigeria move on with a big win. It’s all to play for in Group B!
On the heels of Urguay’s table topping 3-0 victory over South Africa yesterday, France and Mexico entered today’s match hoping to win but willing to draw; a draw for both with a win for each on the final day would leave the entire Group in disarray. In the first half, the match drifted between French control of the ball and an accomplished Mexican counter attack, with both team spurning chances and failing to deliver much of a threat. It wasn’t until the 64th minute when Mexican substitute Javier Hernandez broke what appeared to be a decent offside trap that the Mexican striker found himself alone on goal; Hernandez checked the offside flag, which stayed down, before he rounded Hugo Lloris and scored a massive goal for Mexico, putting them up 1-0. Thirteen minutes later, Eric Abidal slid in on Pablo Barrera in the penalty area, and Barrera made a perfect dive over Abidal’s tackle, to earn a penalty; cagey and smart by Barrera. Mexican veteran Cuauhtémoc Blanco made no mistake from the spot, driving the ball past Lloris and sending France, troubled and under heavy pressure in the run up to this tournament, into a world of trouble in Group A; they now need a huge win against South Africa and anything but a draw between Uruguay and Mexico to have any chance of advancing. I am sure there will be a party in Dublin, Ireland tonight as France, the team that should probably not have been in the Tournament, look to be in a downward spiral out of The World Cup.
Hernandez Scores (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Tomorrow promises to be huge, with Germany vs Serbia kicking things off before the USA take the field against Slovenia; it’s a must win match for the USA and I will be up late and restless, hoping that the boys can get the job done. Hopefully they will be inspired by watching their rivals Mexico do the business against France, but they shouldn’t need motivation; after all, Slovenia’s Andrej Komac guaranteed a Slovenian victory. That’s locker room bulletin board material, son. Hoping we can do the business…
Up Next: Day Eight! The Fate Of The USA Hangs In The Balance