Overview: A nine point Argentina distanced itself from a vicious competition for second edged out by an organized, resilient Korea. The South Koreans overcame a 4-1 loss to Argentina to bounce back against Nigeria and add to their dominant show against Greece. Maradona is different from other big-team managers in his positive atmosphere approach, and even though he has left a lot of good players at home, especially defensive players, his team look strong and motivated so far. Leo Messi has entertained, but not yet scored, will he make this his World Cup?
GOAL DIFFERENCE (FOR, AGAINST)
Lots of hugs to go around.
The hand of god has grown, and now the "hugs of god" using all of Maradona’s surface areas are driving Argentina forward. Is his new huggy-bear approach enough? Not likely, Argentina might have gotten 9 points here but they showed evident weaknesses which better opposition could exploit.
Attacking, confidence and a good spirit fostered by a personality coach.... that was the idea. Maradona, however is not a master tactician, and his defensive neglect could prove costly going forward. Maradona is creating a great, forgiving atmosphere of positive encouragement in the team, this is strangely, a novel approach in a world of terror-coaching and negative pressure... but is it enough? If so Argentina can definitely go all the way to the final.
Prognosis: Argentina will have the toughest test yet against Mexico. Failure is not impossible, especially since they might take for granted their win against the Central Americans four years ago. The Mexican test, if passed, will appropriately prepare them for the even tougher opposition to follow.
South Korea Methodical and Resilient
Fast and furious the South Koreans played,
Combining, running, scheming they stayed,
The Kimchi express is not to take lightly,
The holes in their net are easy to raid,
Their chances of progress are no more than slightly.
Analysis: South Korea flow and perform as a team, but is it enough given lapses in concentration and physical strength?
Strengths: South Korea are efficient and creative in attack, with many options for scoring, but leaky in defence, where the inexperience and lack of physical ability is costing them. They are good at set pieces, comers and free kicks, and dangerous from both wings. Their pressing of the opponents after being ahead has been very very effective so far. They can be overpowered by a team that does both thins better, like Uruguay for example.
Prognosis: South Korea will have a very hard time against Uruguay, anything else will be a surprise and great team achievement.
Greece Better but Time for Retirement
Epitaph: Getting things backwards once again.
Greece’s current talented generation of attackers is forced to play defensive football by their conservative coach. Rehhagel was brilliant before, but his style no longer suits the current generation of Greek players. The loss against South Korea was toothless in the opening match, and their lack of efficiency in front of goal was crucial. The turnaround against Nigeria to pick up the country’s first World Cup win is something to be content with though, and a hard question to answer is: will Greece manage to rebuild with a new generation and be back in 4 years?
Analysis: Injuries caused an insecure defence, despite the best efforts of Tzorvas the goalkeeper. The midfield simply lacked steam and speed to play the counterattacking football of 2004... against three physically fitter sides it didn’t work. The strangest part of it was, that against South Korea Rehhagel had his players attempt long ball, and even here the taller Greeks didn’t really manage to score against the fit South Koreans. Karagounis, Rehhagel, Charisteas, Katsouranis are all going to retire and Greece will have an extensive rebuilding process to do... nothing short of a complete revolution in style will work.
Nigerian Super Eagles Just Ordinary Chickens Again
Epitaph: No wingspan, no claws, no flight.
The Super Eagles continue their lack of form under new coach Lars Lagerback. Although they managed to qualify for the tournament, the Nigerian team is a shadow of its past self at present, with the current set of players refusing to perform well together. All in all what was the final straw was the lack of finishing, with many goals not finding the back of the net. Also crucial was the absence of commanding Chelsea central midfielder John Obi Mikel through injury... his presence adds stability and momentum going forward. The FA is to be blamed for firing and hiring coaches too rapidly, Lagerback was given too little time with the team.... I am certain if allowed to continue the team can improve under him... if he wants to continue that is.
Analysis: Nigeria had a great defence at January’s African Nations Cup, but in South Africa the Shittu-Yobo Everton-Bolton combination functioned only against Argentina. Afterwards, the lack of midfield support meant Nigeria was attacked from too many sides, and this vulnerability proved costly. The main problem was with the offense, and with Sani Kaita’s red card which made all the difference. The attacking players played too far apart, they played the ball too much into space without good timing, something observed numerous times in all three games where a ball was sent forward without anyone running on to it.
Lars Lagerback – stubbornness marked his career with Sweden, and stubbornness marked his short tenure with Nigeria. True, he didn’t have much time to prepare the Super Eagles for the tournament, but he failed to create a functioning attack. He did however make them competitive despite the early disappointments. I think he should get a bit of congratulations for playing a role in the fact that Nigeria still could have qualified on the last matchday, and for really reading Argentina’s weaknesses to create an exciting first match.
11 Performances to Remember
Alexandros Tzorvas & Vincent Enyeama – In Tzorvas Greece look to have found a successor to their legendary goalkeeper Nikopolidis. His performances were solid and he can be blamed for none of Greece’s 5 goals outright.... he wasn’t that much better than Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama who played brilliantly against Argentina, and for most of his time on the pitch, making up for his defence’s lack of concentration... but Enyeama had at least two errors under pressure, forgivable for the amount of work he was asked to do in three games.
Chidi Odiah – Nigeria’s best outfield player, his excellent assist against South Korea looked to have qualified Nigeria. He didn’t manage to inspire the rest of his team though....
Martin Demichelis – Scored a goal, and played generally well except for the horrific mistake which gifted Korea a goal which also puts him in the flops category. He partners Samuel to form Argentina's defence, and has until now been considered a weaker, mistake-prone element.
Walter Samuel – Excellent and solid in the two games he played. Looks reassuring and continuing his excellent play for Champions League winners Inter all season. Argentina's entire defensive stability honestly relies on him alone, and his years of top level club experience at Roma, Real Madrid and Inter.
BEST OF THE GROUP: Lee Chung Yong – Bolton’s right midfielder had an excellent season in England and is now continuing his excellent work on the right of Korea’s offense in South Africa. He is unpredictable, combines well with team mates, and scored a crucial goal for South Korea.
Lee Jung Soo – Not the best defensive performances, but South Korea’s central defender showed why he is known for scoring goals while finding the net against both Nigeria and Greece, crucial goals to his country’s advancement. Was weak in defence and for that reason was not the best in the group.
Leo Messi – Moments of brilliance from the little world renowned sprite lit up this group, even if though he failed to score he is included in the present company due to the Oooh Ahhh factor which has been badly needed so far in this tournament.
Georgios Samaras – A hope for Greek football, if he improves his scoring. He played up front alone against Argentina, and looked very dangerous at times.
Park Chu Young – His energy, and most importantly his goal against Nigeria was crucial to South Korean advancement. He managed to look dangerous the whole time on the pitch with runs and unpredictable forward play.
Gonzalo Higuain – Scored a hat trick, although not a marvellous one against South Korea. He seems to fit well into the team, and has taken the place of Diego Milito in the Argentina team who is generally considered the better forward.
Alexandros Tziolis – Looked dangerous from Greece’s left back slot... especially against Korea where he looked the only determined player on his team at times.
Coach: Huh Jung Moo – The Korean coach has managed to bring to this tournament a collected, well integrated, effective unit... who still concede a lot of goals under pressure but manage to go forward dangerously and threaten any opponent. The fact that they barely qualified was not due to tactical shortcomings, but due to a bad half against Argentina, the victory against Greece and Nigeria make him deserve praise, even more so as South Korea look the only Asian team to leave the group stage.
Honourable Mention : While so many big teams are failing and trailing the blag sludge of negative pressure around this tournament, Maradona deserves praise for deploying a secret weapon: THE HUG. Despite his tactical failures, and Argentina’s vulnerability he managed to win all three games in his group. When questioned by journalists at a press conference about the hug, he intelligently responded: “many of these lads did not receive sufficient hugs in their life, and they need positive support to see this through.” Don’t laugh.... It’s no easy achievement to hug Carlos “Apache” Tevez!
11 Flops to Forget
The goalkeepers all did fine so the flop team doesn’t get one.
Jonas Gutierrez – Not his fault, but Maradona playing him at right defence almost backfired against Nigeria. Argentina has a good attacking winger in Gutierrez, but he has no experience as a defender, and was often out of position. Not a disaster yet, but a potential one.
Martin Demichelis – ALSO in the flops as well as memorable, due to his horrible mistake allowing Park Ji Sung of South Korea to steal the ball and score against the run of play. Argentina's defence is exposed, and he is the unattached fig leaf.
Joseph Yobo – The Everton defender, like his attacking club colleague Yakubu failed to reproduce club form for country. He was not the defensive rock on which Nigeria could be forgiven for their mistake-prone game.
Rabiu Afolabi – Deployed twice for Nigeria by Lagerback, but we will never understand why. Did nothing defensively or offensively.
Sani Kaita – His red card against Greece ruined Nigeria’s chances, turning the game around and in retrospect, demoralizing his team and preventing the few millimetres they lacked to progress from the group. Despite being a decently performing player in the Russian Premiership, lately with Alaniya, his football contribution was minimal, and he even fails as candidate for worst of the group.
Peter Odemwingie – Much was expected of the Lokomotiv Moscow playmaker, he did very little. He looked moderately dangerous against Argentina in the first game, before failing to impress for Nigeria against Greece.
Georgios Karagounis – Finally over the hill... the marvellous Greek attacking midfielder, the goal creating hero of the Greek team, that was so important in qualification was anything but marvellous here, running out of steam in every first half that he played.
Chinedu Obasi - One of the best players in the German Bundesliga with surprise-powerhouse Hoffenheim over the last two years... all the elements were here for him to have a great tournament playing a key role for Nigeria, and he managed to squander every opportunity he had. Would be a candidate for worst if it wasn’t that he actually ran and made quite an effort.
Angelos Charisteas – Too little, too late. The hero of the Greek European Championship struggled through his first game against Korea before being left out of the team. A tough ending for the player that was once the important-goal-scoring mascot of the Greek team.
FLOP OF THE GROUP: Yakubu Ayegbeni – the miss against South Korea towards the end of the game, and the fact that of all the opportunities he only managed to hit a penalty is inexcusable. Yakubu was a major let down and failed to match his club form miserably for Nigeria... not replacing him with another forward, such as Utaka or Martins was a persistent stubborn failure from Lars Lagerback.
Coach:Otto Rehhagel – He has had years to prepare Greece, and now its time for a change, given that his monumental achievement when winning the 2004 European Championship was built on a solid defence, he has failed to realize that the new generation of Greeks is better at attacking than defending, and a defensive style of game no longer suits them.