June 13, 2010
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Day two of the 2010 World Cup began with a rather low key affair. South Korea versus Greece was apparently the game FIFA had the most trouble selling tickets for and it that was proven by the attendance figures. The 46,000 seater ground in Port Elizabeth contained 15,000 empty seats, not exactly the ideal start to the opening game of the weekend.
Pre-game, Otto Rehhagel's Greece were expected to be physical, imposing and dominant in the air, all the while maintaining a sturdy defence. That plan came undone after six minutes however, as Asia's most successful team took the lead. From that point onward the Koreans were quick, inventive and attacked with purpose. Their final ball didn't always stick but their intent was comendable. The verve that encapsulated their run to the semi finals in 2002 was clear on the South African coast, as they tore the Greeks to shreds at will in the first half, but only had the one goal to show for it.
Greece were a disappointment. For all the talk of having a superior squad to 2004, they simply don't have a superior team. Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Charisteas may remain but they lacked the hunger of six years ago. They appeared to have no plan once they fell behind, and no ambition was shown until substitutions had been made into the second half.
It was too late at that point, as Park Ji- Sung capitalised on a heavy Greek touch in midfield by nipping in and slaloming his way into the box to seal a two goal lead which the Red Devils never looked like relinquishing.
Korea may prove to be the surprise package of the tournament, while Greece have been its worst performers thus far.
Argentina outlined their credentials in what became a nervy affair in Ellis Park. From the first minute, the Argentines looked up for it, composed and sharp, especially the attacking duo of Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi.
While the South Americans were a little shaky in defence at times, going forward they were united and fluid. Several opportunities were wasted or saved spectacularly by the Nigerian shot stopper, but one got the feeling it's only a matter of time before the attacking triumvirate click and goals start raining in. If Diego Maradona can sure up his defence, or even find a more suitable left back than Jonas Guttierez, then this team may go a long way.
The same cant be said about Nigeria however. They did muster several chances to equalise, although nothing particular clear cut, but their entire organisation was a bit of a shambles throughout. Argentina ran them ragged in the first half especially and could have been a hatful ahead. Somehow the Super Eagles hung in and could somehow have snatched a draw. The introduction of Oba Martins, Kalu Uche and Peter Odemwingie provided a greater attacking threat, but had they salvaged a draw, it would have been undeserved.
La Albiceleste looked frightening at times, but Nigeria now face a major uphill challenge to reach the second round. Beating Greece next, in what will be a physical affair, is essential.
The evening game between old foes and new friends, England and the US, provided the most drama on day two. The game had been built up as the group decider, as revenge for USA's 1950 victory and as the first step of seven to glory, but the Three Lions failed to deliver on three counts.
Steven Gerrard provided some captain like inspiration after only four minutes but from that point onward England's performance started to unravel. The pace and urgency of the opening exchanges had the Americans up against the ropes, but once they weathered that storm, parity was implemented.
The US had tried in vain to create some clear opportunities, but hey were restricted to tame long range efforts. Ultimately, that was exactly what they scored from. Clint Dempsey's shot to nothing should have been gathered by Robert Green but the world witnessed yet another English goalkeeping clanger. Like David Seaman, Paul Robinson and Scott Carson before him, the West Ham no. 1 will find this mishap hard to escape.
One cant help but think about what was possibly going through his head as he scrambled to claw it out of the goal. Only he will know but the embarrassment episode could end up ruining his England career, as it did for Robinson and Carson after games with Croatia.
Dempsey's goal came from nothing, and provided the heavily supported Americans with something to clean to. They hit the post through Jozy Altidore in the second half, but they will be happy with a point. England dominated possession throughout but failed to create any major clear cut chances. Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright Phillips could have won it for the 1966 winners, but Tim Howard was never going to be beaten again.
The quality of the goalkeepers is what ultimately settled it. USA have one, and England don't.
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