FIFA: Argentina win again; Greece get first victory; France stumble to defeat
Having lamented the lack of real action in the opening week of the FIFA World Cup, with only Germany being spared from any criticism due to their fantastic 4-0 triumph over Australia, the tournament now seems to have opened up and the goals have been flying in over the last two days of action. Many pundits have suggested, quite justifiably, that every team in the competition was frightened to lose in their opening matches and, therefore, placed an emphasis on defence with no real inclination to attack. But now that every team has played their opening game it is evident amongst those teams that have played their second matches already that there is an instinct to attack that wasn’t there before. Suddenly the action is better and the games have become more of a spectacle. Today’s action is a case in point.
The Group B table saw Argentina top after the first round of matches and it remains the case after the second round as the Albiceleste saw off a spirited South Korea side by four goals to one with the brilliant and, in my humble opinion, under-rated striker Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. Argentina, though, did have to rely on a bit of luck to take the lead after a 16th minute free-kick from the left by Lionel Messi was inadvertently turned into his own net by Park Chu-Young from six yards out. The second goal for Argentina began in the same area of the pich with a cross from Maxi Rodríguez flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, an early substitute for Walter Samuel who went off with a hamstring injury, and Higuaín was able to direct the ball goalwards at the far post to double the lead. At this point the Argentines were coasting the match but were given a wake-up call from South Korea when Lee Chung-Yung dispossessed Martín Demichelis on the edge of Argentina’s penalty area and tucked it past Sergio Romero to pull one back on the stroke of half-time.
The second half would belong to one man and that man was Gonzalo Higuaín. His second goal was a true poacher’s effort with Messi and Sergio Agüero combining well with the former’s shot hitting the keeper and a post before crawling along the line where a grateful Higuaín tapped it home to make it 3-1 with thirteen minutes to go. Three minutes later and he’d got his hat-trick thanks once again to some fantastic work between Messi and Agüero. Messi fed Agüero with a lofted ball into the box, with Agüero supplying a beautifully weighted cross over to Higuaín at the far post and his header sealed what was a well-deserved scoreline for a team who have seemingly found their rhythm in this tournament now.
In the other Group B game Greece, who had started the tournament so appallingly in their opening game against South Korea, looked to be heading in the same direction after just sixteen minutes when Kalu Uche’s long distance free-kick somehow avoided everybody in the box and deceived Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas into diving the wrong way. But the Greeks finally got that bit of luck when Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 33rd minute for kicking out at Vasilis Torosidis after a needless scuffle on the touchline. This provided the perfect platform for the 2004 European champions to get back into the game and, with just seconds of the first half remaining, they did just that. Even then Greece, who hadn’t scored a single goal in World Cup finals football before today, finally broke their duck thanks to a cruel deflection, Dimitris Salpingidis’ shot came off Lukman Haruna and sent the keeper the wrong way to make the score 1-1 going into the break. From the second half the Greeks took the game to the Super Eagles who had decided to try and hold on to what they had. But constant Greek pressure soon paid off in the 71st minute when Torosidis, the man at the centre of the red card furore earlier in the game, saw Alexandros Tziolis’ shot from the edge of the box parried by Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and it was Torosidis who put the rebound in from just inside the six yard box to give his country its first ever victory in the FIFA World Cup after they lost all of their previous four games from the 1994 and 2010 tournaments. In the final Group B matches, to be played on Tuesday June 22nd at 20:30 local time, Argentina meet Greece whilst South Korea face off against Nigeria.
Group A had already seen the host nation South Africa crumble to an efficient Uruguay side on Wednesday night, Diego Forlán’s contribution of two goals and an assist for Álvaro Pereira saw the two-time winners victorious to the tune of three goals to nil to silence the vuvuzelas in the crowd. Thursday saw the second game in the group for France and Mexico, both of whom drew their opening matches in the tournament, therefore a win was absolutely imperative for both teams to stake a serious claim of further progress in the competition. Despite the lack of goals in the first half the Mexicans gave a good account of themselves and were clearly the hungrier of the two teams. The French, personified by their expected star of the tournament Franck Ribéry, were lacklustre, devoid of ideas and barely threatened their opponents all night. The second half saw Mexico break the deadlock on 64 minutes when Javier Hernández, who came on as a substitute just ten minutes earlier, beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to take the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris and into the French net. The game was won fifteen minutes later when another second half substitute Cuauhtémoc Blanco dispatched a penalty kick which had been won when Patrice Evra brought down Pablo Barrera in the box. The celebrations started in the stadium and the result seriously hinders French chances of qualification to the next round. In the final Group A games, to be played on Tuesday, June 22nd at 16:00 local time, group leaders Uruguay and Mexico meet each other in Rustenburg, with both teams knowing that a draw will be enough to take them both through, while South Africa plays against France in Bloemfontein in what will almost certainly be their last match in their home tournament.