Tag Archives: Johannesburg

Slovakia progress in 3-2 thriller

Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Marcello Lippi’s Italy became only the fourth defending World Champions to fail to progress past the group stage at a World Cup finals. Slovakia, having failed to impress in their opening two games, came from nowhere to stun the Azzurri and took a 2-0 lead deep in the second half courtesy of a brace from Robert Vittek. Antonio Di Natale pulled one back for Italy before Kopunek gave Slovakia an incredible 3-1 lead. Fabio Quagliarella, who had battled admirably since coming at half-time, chipped in a magnificent goal to gave Vladimir Weiss’ side an scare. The Slovakians held on, however, to register a famous win and progress to the Round of 16.

Italy got off to a very slow start. The passion they displayed at national anthem time had apparently deserted them within minutes of Howard Webb’s opening whistle. Vladimir Weiss’ Slovakia were not making it easy for them, committing fouls to break up any spells of possession.

Italian hopes looked to be dashed when in the twenty-fourth minute Daniele De Rossi’s misjudged pass to Riccardo Montolivo was intercepted before Robert Vittek, Slovakia’s record goalscorer, slotted the ball past Federico Marchetti. It was a dreadful mistake by De Rossi, one which could be seen as a manifestation of a poor World Cup for the Italians.

Italy needed answers. Andrea Pirlo, the brilliant but injured AC Milan midfielder was on the bench. Balotelli, Cassano and Totti were at home in Italy. The lack of a dedicated ‘fantasista’ for Italy in the mould of Totti, Del Piero or Baggio was sorely missed by the Azzurri, who had always depended on a Number Ten to provide creativity and incision.

In the absence of a these players, Italy squandered possession and in truth, did not create many chances in the first half. With Italy at least needing a goal to progress, Marcello Lippi produced his gambit. On came Fabio Quagliarella and Cristian Maggio in place of Gennaro Gattuso and Domenico Criscito respectively.

With the Slovakian goalkeeper, Mucha, dedicated to wasting time just minutes into the second half, Lippi attempted to bring further impetus to his side with the introduction of Pirlo. The AC Milan midfielder’s introduction was granted a rousing reception from the Italian fans in Ellis Park, who sensed that a comeback would hang on the midfielder’s ability to mastermind attacking sequences.

Italy’s chance arrived just after the hour. Quagliarella shot from an angle with the goalkeeper out of position only to see his effort hacked off the line by Martin Skrtel. The Napoli striker was adamant he had scored. The referee and his assistants were decidedly less than convinced. Replays failed to clarify whether the ball had indeed crossed the line.

Slovakia made Italy pay for that missed opportunity. Robert Vittek was once again the hero as he slotted past a bewildered Federico Marchetti. In the Italian technical area, Marcello Lippi looked crestfallen.

Despite their failings, Italy did mount a valiant comeback. Antonio Di Natale capitalising on a rebound to slot past Mucha with just over ten minutes remaining.

Substitute Kamil Kopunek looked to have ended the Azzurri challenge with a late third for Slovakia. The forward dashed past Fabio Cannavaro and on to a throw in before producing a sublime finish to beat Marchetti.

That was not to be the end of the drama. Fabio Quagliarella, who had made an impact since coming on for Gattuso, has a reputation in Serie A for only scoring spectacular goals. The Napoli striker lived up to his billing. Quagliarella received the ball on the edge of the ‘D’, from there he took a touch before unleashing a perfect chip over Mucha.

The Italians had one last chance to complete a stirring fightback. Giorgio Chiellini’s long throw was flicked on to the backpost. Simone Pepe attempted to fire home a reaction shot with his right foot but failed to connect.

The miss prompted scenes of jubilation in the Slovakian dugout, Vladimir Weiss’ side progressing at the expense of New Zealand who could only draw 0-0 with Paraguay. The negative football that had characterised Slovakia’s opening two games was overhauled in this afternoon’s match. In a damning indictment of Italy’s World Cup, the Slovakians were the better side.

The defeat marks the end of Marcello Lippi’s decorated career in management and also the international career of one Fabio Cannavaro. The defender, whose contract was not renewed by Juventus at the end of last season, bowed out with ignominy.

Slovakia will progress to meet Holland in the Round of 16.

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Germany beat Ghana to secure top spot

Germany 1-0 Ghana


Germany beat Ghana by a single goal in an enthralling contest in Soccer City. An unexpected win for Australia means that both teams progress to the Round of 16. Germany will now face England in what might prove to be the tie of the round, while Ghana will play Group C’s winners, the United States. In an entertaining match, both sides played for the win and created numerous chances. Mesut Özil, an early contender for player of the tournament, scored the crucial goal for Die Nationalmannschaft with a scintillating strike from just outside the penalty area.

Both teams, as they had displayed in their earlier games, played engaging, attacking football in the early stages. Both teams seemed eager to soak up pressure and unleash it back upon their opponents on the counterattack.

The best of the early opportunities came when Mesut Özil was played through on goal. The surging rush out by Richard Kingson smothered the Bremen midfielder’s shot before it could threaten his goal.

At the other end, Asamoah Gyan’s goalbound header was cleared off the line by German captain Philipp Lahm. Replays suggested that the Bayern München defender’s arm may have diverted the ball from it’s path but in any case it was accidental.

Tidy interplay between Thomas Müller and Sami Khedira allowed Cacau to get a volley away. Unfortunately for the Brazilian-born forward, his shot bounced into the arms of Richard Kingson in the Ghanian goal.

Ghana only needed a draw to progress but displayed plenty of vigorous intent in the first half but were unable to find a way past Manuel Neuer and his rigid defence.

The teams headed down the tunnel at the break with the scores somehow still locked at 0-0. Germany would need to be patient. They had looked menacing in the attacking third but had thus far been thwarted by a strong performance from the Mensahs, John and Jonathan as well as a much improved showing from Kingson.

The second half began with both teams showing the same offensive ambition. Asamoah was one-on-one with Neuer but failed to adequately control the bouncing ball and could only watch the Schalke 04 ‘keeper get his body in the way. The end to end marathon here was probably only bettered by the phenomenal duel at Wimbledon. Both sides taking turns to attack and break.

When it came, the breakthrough went Germany’s way. Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller exchanged tentative short passes before Müller, with his back to goal, turned and progressed with the football into the penalty area. He spotted Mesut Özil on the edge of the 18-yard box and slipped a pass back to the Werder Bremen midfielder. The ball bobbled and sat up perfectly for Özil, who unleashed a blistering shot into the top corner. Kingson, who had until then been exemplary, could only watch.

The goal put Ghana in a precarious situation. A goal for Serbia in the match at Nelspruit would doom their hopes of becoming the only African team to qualify past the group stages. News of a goal did come soon after Özil’s strike. However, it was the Soccerroos and Tim Cahill that were celebrating.

With the lead secure and Ghana still posing an accomplished threat to their goal, Germany were content to control possession and the flow of the game. Terrific spells of passing were instigated by Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose transformation from pacy winger to a central-midfielder has been seamless. The importance of Schweinsteiger to Germany’s chances cannot be understated, which is why it was so worrying for German fans to see him limp from the field of play clutching at his thigh.

With Australia holding on to a 2-1 lead against Serbia, the game ended with both Germany and Ghana progressing. The results presented an accurate representation of the group. Ghana will now carry the hopes of the African continent as its sole representative in the knockout phase while Germany have reached the Second Round yet again.

England lie in wait for the Jogi Löw’s youthful squad. The German personnel will look at England’s performance today against Slovenia and have nothing to fear. It should make for an entertaining match. This talented German side will be boosted by the return of Miroslav Klose and could be on the verge of making an unexpected run into the latter part of this World Cup.

United States recover to rescue a point

The United States recovered from a 2-0 deficit at half-time to draw 2-2 with group leaders Slovenia. Despite a result which potentially salvages their hopes of reaching the Round of 16 the United States will have every reason to bemoan the result as they were incorrectly denied a late winner by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly.

The 22nd match of this summer’s World Cup got off to a heated start. Clint Dempsey and Ljubjankic challenged for a header in the centre of the pitch just seconds after the referee’s whistle. Fulham’s Dempsey caught the Slovenian striker with his elbow and provoked an furious reaction Slovenia’s players.

The United States failed to mount a sustained attacking threat against England but a terrific pass from Michael Bradley showed a new ambition from the United States. Bradley found Robbie Findley in space on the left, who looked up in search of a target for his cross. Jozy Altidore was unmarked in the middle but Findley’s cross was blocked by the Slovenian right-back.

Auxerre’s Valter Birsa launched a brilliant cross towards Milivoje Novakovic who   moved in front of defender Jay DeMerit. Novakovic could not make the crucial touch as the game began to open up.

Birsa had impressed in the World Cup thus far and opened the scoring with a terrific goal from outside the area. His left footed, curling effort beat Tim Howard, who appeared to be unsighted by his defenders. It was a breathtaking goal and Slovenia appeared to be good value for their early advantage.

Landon Donovan threatened to bring the United States back into this game. His quick feet were causing the Slovenian central defence problems but he was unable to find a teammate when he needed to.

Donovan was involved against just minutes later as he sent a lofted cross towards the far post. Dempsey rose to head goalwards but unfortunately for the Fulham midfielder the ball just bounced off the top of his crown.

Jose Francisco Torres, who was brought into the starting line-up in place of the more defensive Ricardo Clark, whipped a fierce free kick in from the right. Handandovic , whose club form had seen him become an object of interest for Bayern München ,   palmed the shot away at full stretch. The resulting corner brought a chance for Jay DeMerit who attacked the ball well but saw his header land wide of the target.

Robbie Findley was constantly finding himself in dangerous positions but had yet to  take advantage of his unrivalled pace. Findley played a terrible pass towards Jozy Altidore around the penalty spot where a chipped pass towards Donovan or Dempsey at the back post would have been the better option. From the corner, the ball struck Robbie Findley in the face and he was wrongly awarded a yellow card. The card ruling him out of the United States’ final group match with Algeria.

The United States nearly had an equaliser in the 39th minute. Clint Dempsey dribbled deep into the Slovenian penalty before rolling a pass across goal. Miso Brecko swiftly cleared the ball off the line as Donovan prepared to apply the easiest of finishes.

Slovenia scored a second goal just moments later against the run of play. USA caught on the break. Zlatan Ljubijankic taking advantage of terrible positioning by Oguchi Onyewu to beat the offside trap and slot the ball under Tim Howard, who had perhaps tried to close down the Gent striker too quickly.

Slovenia were on the threshold of a truly remarkable achievement. They are the fifth-smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup and just forty-five minutes stood between them and a place in the last sixteen.

Bob Bradley wasted no time in changing his side. Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu were introduced at half-time in place of Francisco Torres and Robbie Findley respectively.

The United States were boosted immediately almost immediately. Record goalscorer Landon Donovan beat the offside trap and approached the goal from the byline, he thought about laying it off before lashing it high just inside the far post with Samir Handandovic unable to react.

The United States got a free kick minutes later as the vocal US support in Ellis Park sparked to life. Donovan’s delivery was perfect once again. Dempsey missed his header and Oguchi Onyewu, hungry to reprieve himself for his earlier mistake, slid towards the ball but it proved to be just out of his reach.

The match was poised, as the cliché goes, on a knife-edge.

The Americans would need to maintain their intensity if they were to mount a successful comeback. It was surprising to see the USMNT players increasingly look to wards Tim Howard to punt the ball aimlessly down the field as their predominant form of creating chances.

The defensive set-up of Slovenia threatened to confound the United States. They were awarded a free-kick following a handball by substitute Maurice Edu. Birsa, whose delivery had been so effective in the first half, continued to offer challenges for the Tim Howard and the American defence to deal with.

The Americans’ play did not seem urgent enough considering the situation they were in. A rare move of short passing saw Benny Feilhaber in possession just outside the Slovenian penalty area. His weak shot dribbled wide with just 25 minutes to go.

Marko Suler was fortunate not to be on the receiving end of a red card after he grappled Jozy Altidore to the ground as the Hull City striker chased down a Landon Donovan pass just outside the penalty area. Altidore appeared to be through on goal and the ever feisty Donovan was infumed by the decision.

Slovenia had begun to lose their discipline, perhaps burdened by a sense of anxiety as they drew ever nearer to the Round of 16.

The United States’ lack of urgency was proving to be their undoing. They needed to find Dempsey and Donovan to increase the tempo and really threaten Slovenia.

However, the Americans would find an equaliser with just seven minutes remaining of normal time.  Landon Donovan fired a searching long ball towards the penalty area. The imposing frame of Jozy Altidore rose above Brecko to head into the path of Michael Bradley’s late run into the box. The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder slid  forward and poked the ball into the goal with Handandovic in no position to save it. Bradley’s goal sparked joyous scenes from the thousands of American fans in attendance at Ellis Park and an even more ecstatic celebration from his father, the coach, Bob Bradley.

The goal gave rise to an interesting dynamic. Would the United States continue to search for an unlikely winning goal, would Slovenia collapse under the pressure?

Perhaps the most contentious refereeing decision yet seen at this World Cup arrived in the 88th minute. Altidore was awarded a free kick after being held back by Jokic.. Donovan stepped forward purposefully to take. The MLS star delivered another excellent free-kick across the six-yard box. Maurice Edu was the first to react and prodded into the unguarded left of the net. Referee Koman Coulibaly, who was erratic throughout, disallowed the goal and awarded a free kick to a grateful Slovenia. Replays failed to show any wrongdoing on the part of the United States’ players and perhaps even suggested that a penalty should have been awarded as Brecko and Jovic wrestled Altidore and Bradley.

Nevertheless, the United States’ recovery gives them 2 points and presents them with a terrific chance to qualify for the next round against Algeria. Slovenia will rue allowing the United States to come back but will also be thankful that Malian referee wrongly disallowed Edu’s goal. Matjaz Kek’s side still sit atop Group C at least until England play the Algerians in Cape Town this evening.

Albiceleste turn on the style to humble South Korea 4-1

The College View’s News Editor, Niall Farrell, witnessed Argentina produce one of the best performances seen so far in this World Cup. Diego Maradona’s side defeated South Korea 4-1 at the Soccer City stadium, Johannesburg.


From the outset, Argentina were firmly on the attack. The first real chance came after eight minutes, but Gonzalo Higuain’s fluffed shot drifted harmlessly over.

Within twenty minutes, Argentina had opened the scoring. A crossed ball was diverted into the South Korean net by Park Chu-Yung ahead of the on-rushing Martin Demichelis.

South Korea aimed to peg Argentina back immediately, as Ki Sung-Yeung shot narrowly over the Argentinean goal on the counter-attack.

Argentina’s accurate passing ensured that the Koreans didn’t have the ball for long though. Ángel Di María and Lionel Messi made probing runs down the flanks.

A free-kick from Carlos Tévez on twenty-eight minutes almost yielded a second goal for Argentina. Tévez struck a fine free-kick just inches over the crossbar.

The South Koreans had two more chances before the half-hour mark from Beom Seok-Oh and Chung Yong-Lee but neither came to any avail.

The attacking tactic employed by Argentina bore further fruits as Gonzalo Higuaín scored the second goal on thirty-three minutes.A free-kick on the left side of the South Korean penalty area was drifted in by Maxi Rodriguez, and Higuain at the far post was left to simply head the ball past Jung Sung-Ryong in goal for South Korea.

Five minutes before half time, Ángel Di María had a chance for a third Argentinean goal. After goalkeeper Jung could only parry a cross, Di María was left with the ball at his feet just ten yards from goal. The Benfica winger aimed the shot at the top-right corner of the Korean goal, but Jung pulled off an outstanding save to deny the Benfica winger his goal.

Just before the break, Lionel Messi almost scored what would have been one of the goals of the tournament. A superb run and pass from Carlos Tévez let Messi in to turn inside a defender and attempt an audacious chip on Jung from outside the box that fell just wide and over.

It looked like Argentina would be in a completely dominant position going into the second half, but a shock goal from South Korea on the stroke of half time put them back in contention.

Following a back-pass to Martin Demichelis that looked easy enough to deal with, Lee Chung-Young managed to steal the ball from the Bayern Munich defender after Demichelis took a bad first touch.

All that remained was an easy finish for Lee as he slotted the ball past Sergio Romero to make it 2-1.

The second half continued at the same high tempo, with Argentina aiming to play a more expansive game than they had before.

Lionel Messi had a half-chance directly after half time, as he dribbled his way into the box only to see his shot deflect away.

South Korean ‘keeper Jung had to pull off another outstanding save after a flowing trio of passes let Gonzalo Higuaín crack a close-range shot at the goal after fifty-two minutes.

A minute later Carlos Tévez cut inside from the left and blasted a low dipping shot at goal for Jung to save again.

Ki-Hung Yeom had a fantastic chance on fifty-seven minutes as South Korea began to break forward with more gusto. Yeom got on the end of the last in a series of quick Korean passes but could only shoot into the side-netting from an awkward angle. Both teams really started to play a more daring game after the hour mark. South Korea were on the lookout for a killer pass to find the equaliser but just weren’t lucky enough for the passes to connect.

The seventy-sixth minute saw a flurry of action, as a South Korean attack let Argentina counter and grab their third goal. Substitute Sergio Agüero released Lionel Messi, who streamed down the left flank and ghosted past two defenders before shooting.

Messi’s shot deflected right into the path of Higuaín, who only had to tap the ball into the net for his second goal.

Four minutes later, a similar move found Messi again on the left side of the Korean goal and Higuaín waiting at the far post. Messi chipped beautifully over the heads of the Korean defence for Higuaín to head in for his hat-trick.

Argentina closed out the game with yet more attacks, their attacking brilliance was a joy to watch. The Republic of Korea may look back and rue Ki-Hung Yeom’s missed opportunity early in the second half, the potential equaliser may well have changed the game.

The Albiceleste will secure qualification to the Round of 16 if Greece are defeated by Nigeria this afternoon. For South Korea, their World Cup future will now depend on finding a result against the Super Eagles on June 22.


More at nfsport.wordpress.com

North Koreans undone by Maicon’s brilliance

Brazil 2-1 North Korea

Korea DPR were, as expected, beaten by Brazil in Ellis Park, Tuesday night. What was not expected, however, was the manner in which the victory was achieved. For 54 minutes Brazil attacked in waves against what was effectively a Korean back-seven. Their efforts proved futile until a moment of inspiration from Internazionale wingback Maicon separated the teams with a swerving effort from the byline. Brazil looked as if they were set to begin freescoring when Robinho’s wonderful pass was met with a first-time shot by Elano. The former Manchester City player’s attempt passing Myong Guk in the Korean goal to make it 2-0. For all of their defensive discipline, the North Koreans broke forward with intent on many occassions. Their efforts were rewarded when Ji Yun Nam slotted over Julio Cesar to set up a nervous last three minutes for Brazil.

Korea DPR had not played at a World Cup since 1966, where they famously defeated Italy. Striker Jong Tae Se’s tears at the national anthems underlined the enormity of the occassion for the Koreans. Throughout the first half the Brazilians poured forward into the North Korean half but were consistently turned away by a very disciplined rearguard effort. Coach Kim Jong Hun remained emotionless as his side successfully thwarted Brazil’s incursions.

For all of their defensive capabilities, the North Koreans also possessed a counterattacking threat in the form of Jong. The “People’s Rooney”, so dubbed for his similar physique and dogged playing style, forcing his way past challenges from Felipe Melo and Michel Bastos on occassion to set up opportunities for his side.

Unsurprisingly Brazil had the ascendancy over their counterparts in terms of possession but created precious little chances with it. Kaká was showing none of the form that secured him a record-breaking transfer to Real Madrid while converted left-winger Michel Bastos released several atrocious long range efforts towards Ri Myong Guk’s goal.

Robinho was the star for Brazil in the first half. His early stepovers and nutmeg thrilled the Johannesburg crowd as he set up an shot for Kaká. In the 20th minute Robinho was involved again, showing consummate control to take in Elano’s pass before turning and firing a snapshot towards goal. Unfortunately for him, his attempt was straight at the goalkeeper.

The teams went in to halftime level. North Korea’s negative tactics, such as bringing all eleven of their players into the penalty area to defend corners and consistently leaving their two defensive midfielders embedded in their back-five, were paying dividends.

The second half began in much the same fashion as the first. Brazil controlled possession and continued to create half-chances. Maicon blasted a freekick wide of the target while Maicon urged the crowd to lift the Seleçåo.

It was Maicon who would finally end the steadfast Korean resistance. Elano passed to Maicon who approached the ball with pace before striking a venemous effort from the tightest of angles past Myong Guk. First glance made the goal look like a monumental error had been committed by the goalkeeper but on second viewing it was clear that Maicon’s shot had swerved phenomenally past the goalkeeper.

Brazil were soon two goals to the good. The ever-present Robinho played a meticulous pass into the path of Elano and the Galatasaray midfielder obligingly slotted past the goalkeeper with a sidefooted shot into the bottom corner.

It seemed that Brazil had finally broken down Korea DPR and were on their way to a routine victory until the 88th minute. Jong Tae Se was inevitably involved in the build-up, heading down a terrific long ball into the path of Ji Yun Nam who dispatched a fine finish over Julio Cesar. His habitually calm manager, Kim Jong Hun, showed his delight at the goal with a well earned fist pump.

Kim’s side were unable to find an unlikely equaliser but succeed in defying the expectations of the watching world. Brazil deservedly won but must now improve if they are to beat Côte d’Ivoire, who were unfortunate not to beat Portugal. Portugal, aside from Cristiano Ronaldo, lacked inspiration in attack and if Korea DPR can must a similar defensive effort in the upcoming fixture then they will have a fighting chance of achieving a point.

Own goal gets Holland off the mark

It was not a vintage Oranje performance but Holland marked their entry into the 2010 FIFA World Cup with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Denmark. Bert Van Marwijk’s side endured a difficult first half in which they failed to create many opportunities but were gifted the lead less than a minute into the second half courtesy of a Daniel Agger own goal. The Netherlands doubled their advantage in the 84th minute with Dirk Kuyt converting a rebound from Eleandro Elia’s effort.

The Dutch, characteristically, enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first half but seemed unable to break down a rugged Danish outfit. Opta’s statistics showed that they were only able to have control of the ball in the Danish penalty area three times before the interval.

The tedious nature of the game was emphasised by several rounds of Mexican waves that circled the pitch at Soccer City. The fans seeking some enjoyment in the beautiful weather in Johannesburg.

The best chance of the half fell to Denmark’s Nikklas Bendtner. The Arsenal striker faded off the shoulders of Mathijsen and Heitinga as he attempted to head goalwards. Denis Rommedahl’s cross reached him at an awkward height and the Arsenal striker’s attempt bounced harmlessly wide.

If Holland were to live up to their exciting reputation they would need to improve in the second half. The breakthrough came almost immediately. Van Persie whipped a cross in towards Dirk Kuyt but it was met by Simon Poulsen’s attempted clearance. The defender, who plays his football in the Dutch Eredivisie for AZ Alkmaar, turned his head too soon before meeting the ball. The ball rebounded off the back of his compatriot Daniel Agger and into the goal.

The goal did little to open up the game as chances remained scarce at either end and the game appeared to be petering out until Eljero Elia was brought on to replace Rafael Van der Vaart.

The twenty-three year old instantly lit up an otherwise dull encounter. He sprang an expertly performed turn to elude two encircling Danes before setting up Robin van Persie who failed to capitalise.

Elia was once again involved with yet more craftiness on the left-wing. The Hamburg winger sending in a challenging cross which eventually found its way to Mark van Bommel who crashed a shot towards Thomas Sørensen. The Danish goalkeeper equal to the effort.

Holland began to attack with more conviction in the latter stages. Wesley Sneijder’s long range attempt ricocheted off Agger and onto the crossbar.

In the 84th minute the Dutch finally claimed the second goal. Wesley Sneijder played an excellent pass through the Danish defence where Eljero Elia was poised to cap his cameo with a goal. He opened up expertly but his shot was denied by the post. Fortuitously it rolled into the path of Kuyt who applied the easiest of finishes.

Enyeama shines but cannot prevent Argentina victory

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Argentina’s quest to add to their World Cup victories in 1978 and 1986 got off to an ideal start with a victory against Nigeria. It was a frustrating display by the Albiceleste who outplayed the Super Eagles but were repeatedly thwarted by the efforts of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

Enyeama produced several astonishing saves from a barrage of efforts from La Liga duo Gonzalo Higuaín and Lionel Messi, who shone on the World Cup stage. Coach Diego Maradona created a stir before the kick-off, naming a starting eleven featuring a front trio of Higuaín, Messi and Carlos Tevez. Jonás Gutierrez, the Newcastle United winger was named as the starting right-back.

The scene for today’s victory was Ellis Park, Johannesburg. The iconic stadium was the setting for scenes of great national unity for South Africa when Francois Pienaar was presented the Rugby World Cup by Nelson Mandela in 1995. Maradona’s Argentina looked suitably united for the stadium, as the Albiceleste seemed relaxed and jocular in the tunnel before the game. Any reports of unease within the Argentine camp appeared to be grossly exaggerated.

Argentina began brightly, Messi sparkling as he evaded the challenges of Nigerian defenders before curling a shot towards the top corner, forcing a sensational stop from Enyeama. Nigeria coach Lars Lagerbäck, whose Swedish sides were traditionally well versed in the art of defending set pieces, will have cursed his team’s defending from the ensuing corner. Juan Seba Verón’s cross finding Gabriel Heinze unmarked. The former Manchester United defender producing a marvellous header from deep to give Argentina the lead in the sixth minute.

Argentina looked supreme in possession but were not as convincing when forced to chase Nigeria. Jonás Gutierrez’s unfamiliarity with the right-back role was exposed recurrently by Ogbuke Obasi and Victor Obinna.

In spite of this defensive uncertainty, Argentina were unrelenting in their attempts to earn a second goal. The midfield, marshalled by captain Javier Mascherano and guided by Verón, were in fine form as they slowly created opportunities for the front three to flourish.

Messi brought more saves from Enyeama before Gonzalo Higuaín had perhaps the best chance of the first half, a beautifully weighted pass from Carlitos Tevez setting the Real Madrid striker through on goal. Higuaín was unable to beat Enyeama however and once more Argentina were thwarted before half-time.

Enyeama’s efforts will have undoubtedly attracted the attention of the many managers from Europe’s preeminent leagues who were in attendance at today’s game.

The early second half was paced almost identically to the first. Messi, at the heart of every chance created by his country, caught Taiwo out with a precise rolled pass to Verón who returned the ball expertly to his compatriot. Man of the match Enyeama once again rescuing his country with a fine save.

Lagerbäck’s side desperately needed an injection of verve. It looked to have come in the 51st minute when Vfl Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins replaced the persistently obstructed Victor Obinna. Nigeria admirably attempted to fight their way back into contention but failed to create meaningful opportunities as cross after cross sailed harmlessly through the penalty area.

The brilliant Verón was replaced by Maxi in the 73rd minute, Maradona perhaps seeking to bring some cover for Gutierrez on the right. Argentina continued to threaten but were incapable of finding away past Enyeama, whose display was surely the best seen in this year’s competition thus far.

The Super Eagles’ best chance at an undeserved draw came in the final ten minutes. A magnificent cross was pulled behind the aligned Argentine defenders. Unfortunately for Icechukwu Uche the ball bounced uncomfortably in front of him preventing him from finding the target.

As they match drew towards its conclusion Argentina failed to keep control of the football, with some reckless passing allowing Nigeria to break forward. Nigeria’s valiant efforts came to nothing as the Albiceleste held on to secure what could be a vital opening victory. They finish the day behind the Republic of Korea on goal difference, with the game between the two sides on the 17th of June poised to decide the winner of the group.

For Lars Lagerbäck there is much work to be done. He may take solace from the inspiring efforts of his goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama. If he can coax performances of similar quality from his outfield players then their World Cup journey may not be over yet.