Day seven of the 2010 FIFA World Cup presented nations with the opportunity to pull away from their competitors and fight for position to earn a comfortable place in search of a second round berth.
Argentina looked to claim their dominance of Group B, while Nigeria and Greece looked for their first points of the tournament.
France and Mexico took the pitch hungry to see what nation could grab the upper hand in search of some vital points in a tough Group A race.
ARGENTINA (Park Chu-Yung 16(own goal), Higuain 33,76,80) 4-1 KOREA REPUBLIC (Lee Chung-Yong 45+1)
Johannesburg, South Africa was the site for this showdown between the two teams atop Group B, Argentina and South Korea.
Argentina got right to it, by snatching possession early on and making things difficult for South Korea all over the pitch.
The Argentine supporters were out in full force, as the stands were packed with a great deal of Argentina colors and flags.
Argentina opened up the scoring in the 16th minute when a Lionel Messi free-kick was bent into the area just missing a Martin Demichelis headed attempt but struck off of the shin of Park Chu-Young and skipped past the keeper for an own-goal and a 1-0 Argentina lead. The keeper was helpless here, but more has to be expected from park Chu-Young in terms of avoiding that deflection.
Argentina was dealt a worry in the 24th minute when dependable centreback Walter Samuel was forced off the pitch and subbed out limping off the field. Argentina didn’t have time to sulk though, as it wasn’t long before they struck again.
The lead was doubled in the 33rd minute when Messi touched for Maxi Rodriguez just beyond the corner of the area. Maxi Rodriguez then chipped a ball into the area where it was flicked on by a Nicolas Burdisso head towards the backpost where striker Gonzalo Higuain stayed onside and headed down, bouncing it by the South Korean keeper. The always-lethal double-header in the box paid off for the Argentines, but it was a rather soft goal on the finish because Jung Sung-Ryong should have done better.
A minute into stoppage time of the first half Argentine defender Martin Demichelis made an inexcusable mistake in the back when he carelessly showed no urgency to clear a bouncing ball and Korea Republic’s Lee Chung-Yong simply stepped right in and took the ball off him and walked in alone on the keeper and poked it past him to cut the lead to 2-1 at halftime.
Argentina was shocked to concede after smothering South Korea for the bulk of the half and barely sharing the ball with them, but the confidence would still be there.
Korea tried to use this late goal as a trampoline to burst their way into a match that they have been non-existent in, lacking attack and possession.
In the 2nd half Argentina got right back on their good feet grabbing possession again and almost putting it to immediate usage in the 52nd minute. Carlos Tevez lobbed Angel Di Maria into the area who then crossed for Gonzalo Higuain whose soft sidefooted volley forced a stretching save by the keeper.
Tevez continued the pressure when he ripped a blast from the corner of the area forcing the South Korean keeper to just glove it aside.
Korea Republic provided a scare in the 58th minute on the counter with Park Chu-Young finding Yeom Ki-Hun who was in on goal from the angle but hit it with the wrong foot and hit the side of the net putting a great opportunity to waste.
But Argentina put the scare behind them and finally hit on a well-deserved third goal that originated through the brilliance of whom else but Lionel Messi. It was the 76th minute, when Messi dribbled away from pressure in the middle of the pitch and found Sergio Aguero up the field. Aguero than returned the ball to a streaking Messi who beat his man into the area and blasted an effort that was kick saved by the keeper. Messi then ran onto the rebound and smashed it again, this time it hit the inside of the post and bounced across the goalmouth to Higuain who easily tapped in his second of the match and gave Argentina a 3-1 lead. Messi did the work, but Higuain gets the tally.
Argentina added another for comfort and style in the 80th minute when Aguero worked a nice give and go with Messi and found Higuain in front of the goal to head home his hat trick and Korea Republic with a 4-1 Argentina win.
Argentina clicked on all cylinders in the attack in this match and put four by the South Koreans with relative ease. Their confidence will be flying high having all but clinched a spot in the 2nd round, but they still don’t look to be really strong in the back after not only a foolish mistake by Demichelis led to a goal, but there were dangerous chances for South Korea to tie before Argentina broke it open. It doesn’t help matters that their most reliable defender Walter Samuel limped off and needed a substitute, but these defensive weaknesses won’t come into play in the group stage. Lionel Messi continued to dazzle us all, doing everything but score a goal despite the numerous occasions that he came mighty close. Higuain will get the praise for his hat trick, but the Argentine attack has proven to be a full committee of success.
Korea Republic were completely outdone and overpowered by a skillful Argentina side. They were overmatched everywhere on the pitch and now are put in a pressure situation to produce a result against Nigeria.
Men of the Match-
ARGENTINA- Gonzalo Higuain
KOREA REPUBLIC- Lee Chung-Yong
GREECE (Salpingidis 44, Torosidis 71) 2-1 NIGERIA (Uche 16)
Free State Stadium was the site for this vital match between the pointless sides of Group B, Nigeria and Greece, who both require a much-needed result to enter the race for the second advancing place of the group.
Once underway the match had a cautious start with both squads keen to feel out each other’s formation.
Greece still managed to look the more urgent side early on, as Nigeria were pleased to keep possession far from the attack.
But all it took was one lapse in the back by Greece and Nigeria would pounce in the 16th minute when Greece conceded a free kick after sloppy play led to an infraction. Nigeria’s Kalu Uche sent the free kick in the danger area only for it to elude everyone and bounce into the net. The keeper was clearly put in a predicament expecting a Nigerian to head to the other side of the goal.
Once Nigeria led 1-0 they seemed a bit more confident then their opponent, who was still in search for their first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup.
Nigeria was dealt a blow in the 33rd minute when Sani Kaita was shown a red card for foolish conduct along the sideline with Greece defender Vasilas Torosidis. The ball went out of play and after some contact to Torosidis’ back, he gave a slight nudge into Kaita while retrieving the ball out of play, Kaita rebelliously decided to not only attempt a shove but lifted his boot and studded Torosidis on the thigh. Though the contact could have been much more severe, the referee was given no other option but to send off Kaita for this extremely dangerous form of retaliation.
Greece clearly looked to be the more advantageous side after the expulsion. They kept the action in Nigeria’s end and looked to be threatening the African defence with multiple crosses deep into the box.
The pressure paid off in the 44th minute when Uwa Echiejile laid off to Dimitrios Salpingidis who blasted a shot and it deflected off Nigerian defender Lukman Haruna’s boot to unfairly beat Enyeama. This evened the score at 1-1 and sent the match into the half with Greece feeling confident and Nigeria in need of regrouping.
The 2nd half began with much more pace to begin with and both sides produced some half-chances to build off of in this deciding portion of play on the pitch.
In the 55th minute, Greece defender Sotirios Krygiakos latched onto a header off the corner only to be denied by a well-positioned and alert Enyeama, who continued to look confident.
Things got mighty interesting in the 59th minute, when Enyeama made a terrific charging save on Theofanis Gekas, who blasted a close-ranged effort on net after being served by a poor clearance attempt by Joseph Yobo . The save not only kept the score tied but sparked a counterattack that led to a two on one break where Chinedu Obasi passed to the open Yakubu whose shot was saved by the stretched arm of Tzorvas and right into the path of Obasi who sadly botched the opportunity to sidefoot the bouncing rebound into the open net. Both sides coming excruciatingly close in the minute, but Nigeria’s Obasi had to be embarrassed of his miss.
In the 68th minute, Yobo did extremely well defensively to intervene on a Gekas’ headed attempt. Seconds later Enyeama was at it again, with yet another leaping stretched save to add to his World Cup highlight reel. This time he robbed Greece’s Giorgios Samaras.
In the 71st minute, the Greece pressure finally paid off when the unbeatable Enyeama finally slipped up. He spilled a rebound on a 25-yard lash from Alexandros Tziolis and Torosidis was there to poke in the rebound and give Greece the 2-1 lead. Enyeama looked off balance on the initial shot and it was a shame to see his spectacular tournament up to that point be tarnished.
Nigeria didn’t give up then though as in the 76th minute, Yakubu lashed a go on net from about 25 yards that just tailed a foot wide of the target.
The Greeks were also keen to add to the scoreline as in the 77th minute Enyeama was put to the test again and forced to make another diving save on a long distanced Greek blast.
After a spell of really open play, the last 15 minutes became rather condensed and Greece managed to hold on to the 2-1 victory.
Greece will be energized after coming back from a goal deficit and not only scoring their first goal ever at the FIFA World Cup, but also collecting their first ever victory. The energy was there in this match unlike in their opener. They were a common threat near the Nigerian area, especially after the expulsion and they were finally able to convert on opportunities thanks to a deflection and a goalkeeper spill.
Nigeria will be distraught after the defeat, as they will feel that this match was theirs for the taking until the foolish red card. The chances to score were there, just ask Obasi, but the disadvantage in numbers stunted any real consistent attack for the Nigerians and cost them dearly. Hope is not all gone for Nigeria though, as a win over Korea Republic and some help from Argentina could put their hopes down to a goal differential tiebreaker.
Men of the Match-
GREECE- Dimitrios Salpingidis
NIGERIA- Kalu Uche
FRANCE 0-2 MEXICO (Hernandez 64, Blanco 79)
The last of the second fixtures in Group A placed France and Mexico on the pitch to determine who have the upper hand in search of one of the advancing places.
The match began with some end-to-end action that looked sure to provide us with an entertaining and exciting match.
The promise of all out action was quickly put to rest, as the match dulled down after a quick start and was played in the midfield for the majority of the first half.
France may have had the more possession, but their play was sloppy up front with hardly anyone stepping up in the area to produce a valiant go on net or a creative pass.
Mexico did well to break up France’s attack and counter down the pitch with speed, but their finishing attempts left room for improvement also.
Carlos Salcido was the most effective player on the pitch in the first half. He broke up play in the back and was also able to contribute in the attack storming up the leftwing and supplying a strong effort on net and multiple balls linking to Mexico’s frontmen.
The match remained scoreless at the half with each nation only mustering one shot on target apiece. It was a pretty evenly played half of football.
France provided the first real opportunity of the second half in the 54th minute when Florent Malouda smashed an effort on goal but right in line with the Mexican keeper who calmly tapped it over the bar.
Mexico was the nation to break the deadlock in the 64th minute when Rafael Marquez played a ball behind the French defence and substitute Javier Hernandez timed his run perfectly, staying onside by a blade of grass, and he was in all alone on Lloris and simply touched by the keeper and slid in the opener to give Mexico the 1-0 lead.
Just over ten minutes later Mexico was giving France nightmares once again when substitute Pablo Barrera sped into the area under complete control and pushed the ball by Eric Abidal who went for it all with a slide tackle and paid the price conceding an obvious penalty.
Blanco stepped up for Mexico and perfectly placed his shot into the sidenetting, beating a stretched Hugo Lloris with a perfect penalty to give Mexico the 2-0 victory.
France will be extremely frustrated after this defeat to Mexico because they continued to lack any sort of attack up front. They were shut out again and it gave the feel of 2002 all over again. They aren’t officially eliminated yet, but it is a matter of time because this squad filled with talented individuals has failed to perform as a cohesive group under lame duck manager Raymond Domenech.
Mexico on the other hand will leave this match extremely confident in their level of play. They outperformed France in every aspect of the match and clearly have the weapons up front to threaten and finish against any opposition. Mexico will now only need a draw to advance and they are clearly comfortably lined up for a spot in the second round.
Men of the Match-
FRANCE- Florent Malouda
MEXICO- Rafael Marquez
GOAL OF THE DAY- Gonzalo Higuain’s second, in the 76th minute of play to give Argentina a 3-1 lead. The brilliance of the goal was the lead up by Lionel Messi. His initial pass, his run to space, the beating of his man, the first shot, and the rebound off the post otherwise known as the assist.
SAVE OF THE DAY- Plenty of nominees here with South Korea’s Jung Sung-Ryong’s diving stop on Higuain, Greece’s Tzorvas’ stretching save on Yakubu on the breakaway, and Nigeria’s Enyeama’s leaping save on a Greek header.
CELEBRATION OF THE DAY- This one has to go to the Mexican fans in the stands who erupted after a Mexico goal. Leaping in unison and hugging each other in pure joy while being sprayed by an alcoholic beverage.
MATCH OF THE DAY- Argentina- Korea Republic
MISTAKE OF THE DAY- As usual it was another day filled with mistakes. The first being a careless giveaway by Demichelis in the back for Argentina that directly led to their only blemish of the match
Nigeria had three worthy of mentioning. The shameful red carded stud work from Sami Kaita, the botched empty net opportunity on the break by Obasi, and the spilled shot by Enyeama which lead to the match winning goal.
CONCLUSION- Group A’s scenarios have become pretty clear after Mexico’s handling of France. Mexico and Uruguay comfortably sit atop their group with a three-point cushion and only a draw needed to advance. Don’t be shocked to see a dull draw in that match, but Mexico might push for a win in order to avoid Argentina in the second round. Either way France or South Africa will need a blowout victory in order to have any hopes of advancing.
Group B has all but been clinched by Argentina after their routine smashing of South Korea 4-1. But all of the other three nations are still in the running for the second advancing spot. Greece stayed alive by coming back from a 1-0 deficit to beat Nigeria 2-1, who had to play a man down for over an hour do to a foolish decision by Kaita. This group has tiebreaker written all over it for the second spot.
SOUTH AFRICA 1
KOREA REPUBLIC 3