Maradona’s Argentina polish semi-final prospects

2010-06-18 00:00

MANY question marks surrounding Argentina’s World Cup semi-final and even final potential were removed by their fluid 4-1 deconstruction of an enterprising Korea Republic at Soccer City yesterday.

Coach Diego Maradona’s credentials have even split the nation where he is revered with god-like status.

But the super-talented Argentines, boasting the world’s best player in Lionel Messi, looked every bit the part of a team capable of reaching the last four.

Argentina’s second victory in Group B, following a solid 1-0 win over Nigeria, was a Messi-inspired performance, in which Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain notched up the tournament’s first hat-trick and substitute Sergio Aguero was also prominent.

In some instances, with a group of players like Argentina have — also including Liverpool defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez — an experienced tactical coach seems surplus to requirements for a successful World Cup.

Argentina, in becoming the first team to qualify for the second round at this tournament, appear set to put that theory to the test. Maradona is a leader and hugely respected — Argentina will hope the rest falls into place.

Maradona’s side play classic Argentinean football — rough at the back, physical in the middle and with plenty of finesse going forward.

The Koreans, who started with an impressive 2-0 win over Greece, are an industrious, technically correct side and yesterday’s scoreline was more down to Argentina’s fluency than the Asians’ inability.

Following Greece’s 2-1 win over Nigeria yesterday at Ellis Park, the race for Group B’s second place looks set to be decided in the match between Nigeria and Korea in Durban on Tuesday, with Greece unfancied to beat Argentina in Polokwane.

Korea conceded the first goal in the 17th minute when Park Chu Young, unsighted by a team-mate in front of him, deflected Messi’s free-kick in off his shin.

Another blunder — by goalkeeper Jung Sung Ryong, fumbling Higuain’s header — made the scoreline 2-0.

A third defensive error, this time by Argentine central defender Martin Demichelis, dwelling on the ball to be robbed by Lee Chung Yong, allowed the striker to stab past goalkeeper Sergio Romero and get his side back into the game.

The Koreans matched their opponents for much of the second half, but Argentina finished strongly, with Messi’s magic setting up two more Higuain goals.

In the 76th minute, the Barcelona midfielder was played into the left of the area in a one-two with Aguero, seeing his first shot saved by Sung Ryong and the second come off the left upright for Higuain to finish into an open goal.

Four minutes later, Messi’s deft chip to Aguero on the left opened the space, and the Atletico Madrid midfielder sidefooted to Higuain to bury his header for his side’s fourth goal.

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