Tag Archives: Nigeria

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 12

Winners

The Irish

Although it is somewhat bittersweet. It’s quite something to almost (and I do mean almost) feel sorry for the Irish media sponsored “Ireland’s nemesis” but once the dust had settled, there was something rather depressing about seeing such world class talent go to waste.

While many generous observers believed that Ireland would easily escape Group A, the reality may have been much different. What we can be sure of though, is that Ireland would have given everything they had in the process. That France poured salt on the wound by lying down and dying is the bigger insult. That said, you would hard pressed to find an Irishman who is upset at their failure, and despite my attempt at seeing it from both sides of the coin, I am not one of them.

Argentina

82% possession in the game, a 100% record in the group and a tie they will fancy against Mexico in the next round. Job done.

Diego Maradona

Credit where it’s due. While the group may not have been terribly challenging, Argentina were extraordinarily poor in qualifying. This is where it really counts though and while other fancied nations are self-destructing, Diego is steering the ship comfortably. For now.

Martin Palermo

A lovely and deserved moment for Saint Martin.

Uruguay

In the end deserving winners of a tight group. Finishing at the summit means they will avoid Argentina and take the (potentially) easier route through Greece.

Mexico

Goal difference keeps them in it, but Diego’s men are waiting. A repeat of the excellent 2006 second round clash which went 120 minutes and was won in fine style by one of the goals of the tournament courtesy of Maxi Rodriguez, is welcome stuff.

South Korea

By the skin of their teeth. It’s nice to see a good footballing team progress at the expense of Greece.

South Africa

Although they become the first host nation in history not to see the second round, Bafana Bafana (Whatever will ITV say now?) brought entertainment, pride and team spirit to their games, winning over many new fans in the process. A famous victory against a disgraceful French side will do little to cushion the blow of bowing out at the group stage, but there should be no shame in the South African camp.

Darragh Maloney

In reference to Patrice Evra’s now-infamous “I’ll give the Irish a replay…on my Playstation” quote, the future Bill O’Herlihy remarked; “He’ll have plenty of time to play with his Playstation now.” Sick burn Darragh, sick burn.

Adrian Chiles

Even ITV stuck the boot in as Chiles exclaimed: “As we say goodbye to two more teams from the 2010 World Cup, one of them will be sadly missed; the other, well, in all honesty, won’t be.” Zing.

Losers


France

What goes around comes around and other such clichés. In truth, this team were beaten before a ball was kicked. The message from the French players’ faces and body language was clear; “I want to go home”. Nicolas Anelka couldn’t keep the smile off his face when confronted by reporters and photographers after being sent home in disgrace. His verbal condemnation of the manager likely echoed the thoughts of the majority of the French dressing room.

The story of France’s World Cup campaign is a fascinating one that some of the best Hollywood scribes would fail to better. From the villainous method of their qualification to the mutinous players to an exit laced with apathy and self-contempt, Les Bleus have shown their true colours, making a disgraceful embarrassment of themselves in the process.

This is a broken team and incoming manager Laurent Blanc has the biggest and most challenging task of his life on his hands.

Raymond Domenech

Standing in the centre-circle, arms-folded and staring into space, Domenech looked like a lost man surveying the damage following a lengthy and bloody battle. However, when the soon-to-be-former French manager took up his stance on the halfway line, the game had yet to even kick off.

90 minutes later his team (or rather what was left of them) were out of the World Cup and Domenech cemented his legacy as both a fool and poor loser when he refused to shake the extended hand of South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. While both men had managed their last game in South Africa 2010, the gulf in class between them was shown to the entire world.

Domenech had announced that he would step down after the tournament whatever happened, so there will be no axe to fear, but the mystery remains as to just how he remained in the job for so long. It’s a fitting tribute that he leaves France rooted to the bottom of their group in a World Cup finals for the second time in eight years. Guess it was written in the stars. Au revoir Raymond, please disappear into obscurity.

Greece

Guess Nigeria was a one-off then. More horrible anti-football from the masters. Good riddance.

Nigeria

Worked hard but never really got going.

Yakubu

I would have scored that.

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Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 7

Winners


Irish fans

Yes we are that bitter. And yes, watching France lose and possibly bow out this soon was damn sweet.

Mexico

Took full advantage of France’s apathy to put themselves firmly in the driving seat. A point is all that is required from their game against Uruguay to progress beyond the group stage. With the exception of Germany, the South American teams have played the most attacking and exciting football and Mexico kept up the standard.

Javier Hernández and Cuauhtémoc Blanco

The future and past of Mexican goalscoring talent combined to see off France. The future is bright for  Manchester United’s newest acquisition having now scored eight goals in fourteen appearances for his country while the 37-year-old Blanco added to his legend with a well-taken penalty to seal a famous victory.

Argentina

Repelled a South Korean fightback in style to make it six points from six and should finish the group with the maximum number when they face Greece. Diego Maradona’s men have been impressive without having to go to too much trouble. It’s early days yet and Messi has yet to hit the back of the net but the early signs are good for a team that struggled greatly through the qualifying campaign.

Gonzalo Higuain

A cool, calm and collected hat-trick makes the Real Madrid forward YOUR World Cup top goalscorer.

Greece

Lesson learned. Following the wretched anti-football that led to their demise against South Korea, the 2004 European Champions woke up and took the game to Nigeria. An especially impressive result considering they came from behind to win, scoring their first ever goals in the World Cup finals in the process.

Alexandros Tsorvas

A very lucky boy. Coming out on the winning side should make people forget about his Bruce Grobbelaar-esque goalkeeping that led to Greece conceding the opening goal.

Losers


France

Karma is a bitch. Outclassed and outplayed, the 2006 finalists looked disinterested throughout. Perhaps Raymond Domenech has finally broken his team’s spirit. In any event, France appeared content to let Mexico play and barely put up a fight.

Thierry Henry

And speaking of karma, all the former French captain could do was watch from his designated spot on the bench. Safe home Thierry.

Nigeria

In relative control following an early lead, the Super Eagles were mostly untroubled until one man threw it all away…

Sani Kaita

A moment of utter stupidly from the Nigerian midfielder led to his dismissal and the subsequent Greek revival. It might seem harsh to place the failing of a team on the shoulders of one player, but Kaita’s assault on Vasilis Torosidis cost his team the match and effectively booked their ticket home.

Sani Kaita red card is the catalyst for Greek revival

Greece 2-1 Nigeria

A moment of madness from Nigerian midfielder Sani Kaita gave Greece the ideal platform to mount a comeback against Lars Lagerbäck’s side.

Following Argentina’s earlier 4-1 victory over the Republic of Korea, both sides were in desperate need of a victory to keep their chances of qualification for the next round intact. Despite the pressing need to win, neither side looked likely to threaten in the early stages. Greece’s Katsouranis tried a speculative chip from near the halfway line but his effort was easily saved by Vincent Enyeama, whose performance against Argentina had impressed the footballing world.

Nigeria took the lead in the 16th minute. An inswinging freekick from Kalu Uche eluded an attempted header from Peter Odimwingie before finding its way into the Greek net. Goalkeeper Alexandros Tsorvas was clearly expecting Odimwingie to make contact with Uche’s freekick as he dived away from the cross. Greece were facing an early exit from the World Cup.

Nigeria looked comfortable in the lead. Otto Rehhagel’s side, as they were against South Korea, were reduced to punting long balls forward into their opponents penalty area. These poor passes posed no problems for the Nigerian central defenders, Danny Shittu and Joseph Yobo, who headed each of them away with ease.

The game’s pivotal moment arrived in the 33rd minute. Torosidis and Kaita jostled for the ball after it had gone out for a through in with the latter aiming a kick at the Greek’s thigh. Torosidis collapsed to the floor clutching his face in a shameful attempt to capture the referee’s attention. Despite Torosidis’ clear overreaction, Kaita deserved the subsequent red card. The AS Monaco midfielder could hardly believe it, falling to his knees as the referee produced the card before trudging from the field with his shirt covering his face.

Rehhagel sensed that his side’s chance had arrived. He almost instantly summoned Georgios Samaras from the bench, the Celtic striker replacing Papastathapolous.

Nigeria’s players were visibly rattled by the dismissal of their talented midfielder. Greece on the other hand were buoyant. Far from their uninspired ‘Route One’ football that they had displayed at this World Cup until then, they played sublime high tempo passes along the ground. Salpigidis almost benefited from this newly acquired lust for goals and was played through on goal. He was unable to shoot past the onrushing Vincent Enyeama who was once again the hero for Nigeria, producing a wonderful save.

The Maccabi Haifa ‘keeper was powerless to prevent the inevitable equaliser however. Salpigidis, who had shown some effectiveness after coming on as a substitute against South Korea, fired a low shot towards the bottom right corner. On its path to goal it was deflected by Haruna and ended up high to the left of Enyeama. Salpigidis wheeled away with his teammates as they celebrated Greece’s first ever World Cup goal.

The half time whistle was welcomed by the Super Eagles who huddled on the pitch before jogging purposefully towards the tunnel. Lars Lagerbäck had the difficult task of re-organising his unnerved side.

The Swedish coach’s team talk clearly had little effect on his side as the pattern of the second half bore a vivid resemblance to that of the first. Greece, perhaps out of character, controlled possession for long spells and always seemed the more likely to score the goal that would separate the teams.

Nigeria suffered another blow in the 55th minute. Talented fullback Taye Taiwo pulled his groin as struck an overhit cross into the Greek penalty area. The Marseille stalwart’s combination of defensive knowhow and his intrinsic athletic ability were sorely missed by the Super Eagles over the following 35 minutes or so.

Shittu and Yobo remained steadfast in their defiance of repeated Greek attacks. The corner count was rising rapidly as cross after cross was headed away confidently by the Premier League duo. Yobo was culpable for what proved to be one of the match’s decisive moments, however. His failed attempt at a clearing header fell to Gekas. The superb Enyeama prevented the striker from scoring with an outstanding save with his feat. From the save the ball was pumped forward and Nigeria found themselves in an attacking position with Yakubu Aiyegbeni in a one on one situation with Tsorvas. The Greek goalkeeper matched his Nigerian counterpart’s efforts with a magnificent parry. His block looked to be in vain as it dropped into the path of Chinedu Obasi. Obasi rounding off a tremendously exciting passage of play with a horrific miss from six yards, one which may yet rank as the worst of the tournament.

Enyeama was once again the pillar on which Nigeria’s hopes lay. He produced perhaps his best save of the competition to date as he flew across his goalmouth to deny a header from Gekas.

For all of his wonderful goalkeeping the Nigerian goalkeeper was culpable for Greece’s second and what proved to be the critical goal. A low shot from the edge of the penalty area swerved at the last possible moment and Enyeama failed to adjust his body to meet it firmly. The ball rolled into the path of Torosidis who dispatched the winning goal and prompted an ecstatic reaction from both the crowd and the Greek substitutes.

Enyeama protested the referee’s decision to allow the goal as Yobo was injured in the build-up after clashing heads with Samaras. His complaints went unheeded.

Greece continued to dominate in the closing stages. Nigeria’s best chance at an unlikely equaliser fell to Everton’s Yakubu who curled a shot just to the left of Tsorvas’ goal.

Criticisms of Lars Lagerbäck proved to be valid. The Swedish coach did little to console his side after the fatal dismissal of Kaita. His failure to readjust his formation accordingly was capitalised on by Otto Rehhagel, who had contended that his side would play attractive football if Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were amongst the members of his squad. His side may not have produced a display of the same calibre as Argentina’s earlier today but the exertions of his squad and their gritty determination to overturn Nigeria were commendable.

Nigeria must now beat the Republic of Korea and hope that Argentina beat Greece for the Super Eagles to have any chance of reaching the Round of 16.

Round One in Review

The first round of group stage fixtures at the 2010 World Cup is complete. Every team has now taken their World Cup bow in South Africa and we’ve already been left with some intriguing permutations for qualification to the last sixteen. World Cup Daily will now take a look back at this mini-milestone stage of the competition.

Group A:

Group A is a bit different by way of having already completed one game of the second round of fixtures. The result was a potentially crippling one for the Bafana Bafana, as they lost to Uruguay 3-0 while also losing their first choice goalkeeper to suspension. France play Mexico tomorrow with the winner of that game taking a massive step towards the next round. Here is the table as it stands.

Group A MP W D L Pts
Uruguay 2 1 1 0 4
Mexico 1 0 1 0 1
France 1 0 1 0 1
South Africa 2 0 1 1 1

The hosts, South Africa, achieved what may yet be their best result in the competition in the tournament’s opening game against Mexico. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s incredible strike will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. 1998’s winners France stuttered in a 0-0 stalemate against Uruguay. Although they failed to impress against Les Bleus, Uruguay now control Group A courtesy of their victory over Bafana Bafana in Pretoria this evening. Diego Forlan lead the line with conviction and scored two goals, taking him to the top of the goalscoring standings for the tournament.

The outcome of Mexico v France is key to the future of the group. If there is a winner to that game then the hosts will be all but eliminated and the victor should progress to the last sixteen alongside Uruguay. A draw will throw open a range of possibilities and will ensure an exciting climax, with South Africa’s participation in the World Cup still very much alive.

Group B:

The Republic of Korea and Argentina sit loftily atop Group B at the moment courtesy of victories over Greece and Nigeria respectively. The two sides meet tomorrow in the early kickoff at Soccer City.

The Republic of Korea were comfortable victors of Otto Rehhagel’s Greece. The Euro 2004 champions were both lethargic and sloppy and possessed none of the defensive nous that saw them capture the European Championships six years ago. On the other hand, Korea were excellent. Their captain, Park Ji Sung, has excelled in the playmakers role for South Korea for years and demonstrated his immense capabilities in their 2-0 win.

Lionel Messi was at his dazzling best in the Albiceleste’s 1-0 success over Nigeria. The tight scoreline flattered the Super Eagles and Nigeria will need to improve drastically if they are to have a future in the competition. Nigeria will face elimination from the competition should either South Korea or Argentina win and they are defeated by Greece. Lars Lagerbäck will refuse to accept a group stage exit and Nigeria should get the better of a Greek side devoid of ideas.

Group B MP W D L Pts
South Korea 1 1 0 0 3
Argentina 1 1 0 0 3
Nigeria 1 0 0 1 0
Greece 1 0 0 1 0

Group C:

To everyone’s surprise Slovenia sit in pole position in Group C. They capitalised on England’s 1-1 draw with the United States, beating Algeria 1-0. Slovenia were vulnerable on the flanks, where Ziani was a constant threat. The United States’ Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan could pose similar problems to the Slovenians should they be allowed to transgress deep into Slovenian territory. Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic carried his remarkable Serie A form into the World Cup and will prove a difficult obstacle for Bob Bradley’s side.

The United States themselves were lucky to escape from Rustenberg with a point, Robert Green’s now infamous catastrophy allowing Clint Dempsey to score. USMNT are capable of producing a much superior performance against Slovenia. The Americans’ defensive core of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit were solid against England, a huge boon considering Onyewu’s terrible recent history of injury. Bob Bradley will need to consolidate that defensive strength with a more potent strike force if the United States are to wrestle command of the group out of Slovenian hands.

England’s performance has been evaluated countless times since that night in Rustenberg. Last minute call-up Jamie Carragher was beaten easily on occassion by the pace of Jozy Altidore and if the rumours of him starting the next game are proven to be correct then John Terry will need to be on top form.

The conundrum of who is the best candidate to partner Wayne Rooney in attack has not yet been solved by Fabio Capello. Emile Heskey’s performance against the United States was bafflingly praised by some pundits in the immediate aftermath of the game. The reality is that Heskey is not a striker of genuine international-quality. Perhaps the best solution for Fabio Capello would be to move new captain Steven Gerrard forward into a support role for Rooney with a four man midfield behind the two.

Group D:

It is no surprise that Germany are the stand out performers in Group D thusfar. Their 4-0 demolition of Australia was founded on individual brilliance from Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski and fantastic distribution and holding from Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. It will be a great relief to Jogi Löw to see Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski performing so effectively after both had endured difficult seasons for their club sides.

Australia on the other hand seem destined for elimination. They were powerless to prevent a drubbing at the hands of the Germans and to make matters worse their talisman, Tim Cahill, has been suspended. They must now face Ghana, who were better than their 1-0 scoreline indicates.

Stade Rennais’ Asamoah Gyan gave the Black Stars victory over Serbia. The real star performer, however, was Kevin Prince Boateng. The Portsmouth midfielder was busy, creative and determined against the Serbs and if he can continue that form against Australia then Ghana will stand on the brink of qualification for a second successive place in the last sixteen.

Serbia were predestined to be the tournament’s dark horses. They were abject against Ghana. Their celebrated defence was challenged by an under-strength Ghana and it is forgivable to think that they will have even greater difficulty against Germany’s multi-pronged attack.








Group D MP W D L Pts
Germany 1 1 0 0 3
Ghana 1 1 0 0 3
Serbia 1 0 0 1 0
Australia 1 0 0 1 0

Group E:

Holland failed to reach their potential against Denmark but still managed to escape with a comfortable 2-0 victory. The return of winger Arjen Robben will only add further strength to their challenge and they may yet become the swaggering champions that a large section of the world’s observers reckon they were born to become. The revelation of the game against Denmark was Eljero Elia. The young Ajax winger replaced Rafael van der Vaart and made an immediate impact. His energy and innate skill were clear to see and further appearances for the youngster are almost a certainty now.

Japan were everything their reputation told us they were. They were organised. They were boring. And they numbed Cameroon into submission. Keisuke Honda’s goal gave them a 1-0 victory over the Lions. They will not be so fortunate against Holland.

Cameroon’s performance was toothless (pardon the pun). Samuel Eto’o was the only player to emerge with any credit and even he seemed powerless to prevent Japan from hanging on to a clean sheet and a victory. Cameroon should improve against Denmark, they have too many players of high quality not to. A victory is required. Anything less may spell an embarrassing early exit.

Group E MP W D L Pts
Netherlands 1 1 0 0 3
Japan 1 1 0 0 3
Cameroon 1 0 0 1 0
Denmark 1 0 0 1 0

Group F:

Paraguay 1 0 1 0 1
Slovakia 1 0 1 0 1
Italy 1 0 1 0 1
New Zealand 1 0 1 0 1

The immediately striking aspect of your first glance at the Group F table is Italy’s absence from top spot. The World Champions were perhaps the better side against Paraguay but could not convert their superiority into sincere shooting opportunities. If Marcello Lippi insists on keeping the 4-2-3-1 formation then he will need to remove Iaquinta. The Juventus forward was unthreatening throughout the encounter with Paraguay and his place in the starting line-up ahead of Antonio Di Natale is ponderous at best.

Of more immediate concern to ‘gli Azzuri’ is the fitness of Gianluigi Buffon. The decorated goalkeeper has suffered a recurrence of a herniated disc and may play no further part in Italy’s quest to retain the World Cup. Into the breach will step young Federico Marchetti. The Cagliari goalkeeper was a revelation in Serie A this past year and may yet prove to be a worthy replacement to one of the world’s greatest shot-stoppers.

Slovakia controlled the game against New Zealand but concentration lapses ultimately proved to be their undoing. Marek Hamsik, their captain and Vladimir Weiss were stand-out performers against New Zealand and must retain their creative flair if they are to overturn Paraguay as the second side to progress from the group.

There is a feeling that New Zealand have already achieved what they set out to do in drawing with Slovakia. It is unthinkable that they may claim another point against Paraguay or Italy despite their obvious strenghts in defensive organisation.

Group G:

Brazil showed their usual flair but were unable to score more than two goals against North Korea. Robinho and Maicon were the outstanding performers on the night for the Seleçao. They should prove too strong for Portugal, who were terrible against the Côte d’Ivoire, but may yet be tested by the Elephants.

North Korea were the unknown quantity in the ‘Group of Death’. Their star player, Jong Tae Se, garnered a lot of attention for his tears at the national anthems and his subsequent display which culminated in an assist.

Côte d’Ivoire were far more structured than they were in the Cup of African Nations. In Gervinho and Salomon Kalou they have players to supply the now fit Didier Drogba and also to beat fullbacks. If they can achieve a draw against Brazil and proceed to thrash North Korea, then the Brazilians may yet face an unlikely elimination from the World Cup.

Brazil 1 1 0 0 3
Côte d’Ivoire 1 0 1 0 1
Portugal 1 0 1 0 1
North Korea 1 0 0 1 0

Group H:


This group looked to be all about Spain. The European Champions and favourites to lift the World Cup were expected to breeze through this group with minimal fuss. They did not expect to encounter the managerial powerhouse that is Ottmar Hitzfeld and his appropriately strong Switzerland defence. The Swiss demonstrated the frailties within this otherwise exceptional Spain side.

Spain were unable to show the requisite cutting edge and for all of their possession, they mustered very few threatening attempts on goal. They will have a chance at redemption against Honduras, who were disappointing against Chile.

Chile were every bit as entertaining as we were led to believe. Marco Bielsa has created an attacking side with a remarkable flair and creativity to it. The tactical decision to field only three players was not exposed as folly by a blunt Honduras but achieving the same result against Spain may prove to be too difficult a challenge.

World Cup Daily – Winners and Losers of Day 2

In the second of his columns on the winners and losers of the day from the World Cup, Dave Hanratty aims his sights at Robert Green and co.

Winners

USA

Torn apart after five minutes, it looked like it was going to be a very long night for the Americans, but a combination of their determination and Rob Green’s stunning incompetence saw them deservedly take a point from proceedings. Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan stood out in a team that grew in confidence as the game went on. Solid but not spectacular, they should advance from the group with little difficulty.

South Korea

Often pigeonholed as “workmanlike” and often dismissed in turn, the South Koreans combined their impressive workrate with skill and flair, cruising to an easy two nil victory over a pathetic Greece side. The scoreline flattered the 2004 European champions and in truth really should have been much more. South Korea are out to prove that their semi-final appearance in 2002 was no fluke, and while that might be a touch optimistic, they should not be underestimated.

Argentina

Gabriel Heinze’s header on six minutes seemed to invite the floodgates to open. Were it not for the heroics of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, it could have been an embarrassing day for the African side. While Enyeama won his personal battle with Lionel Messi, it was Maradona’s men who won the war, although they will need to produce a better performance against more credible opposition.

Mick McCarthy

“When I looked at the teamsheet I had to ask if it was THE Veron!”. An all expenses paid trip to the World Cup and an easy commentary gig without doing any homework. Good job Mick.

Losers


Rob Green

It would be tragic if it wasn’t so funny.

James Milner

Whether or not Milner’s 30th minute substitution was down to illness or a fear that he may get sent off, the possibly Man City-bound midfielder was given a huge opportunity and promptly blew it.

Greece

You get the feeling that they would be content to suffocate teams to 0-0 draws until the end of time. Thankfully the South Koreans were able to find away around their disgusting anti-football tactics.

Anglo/Korean Relations


Hats off once again to Peter Drury of ITV for coming out with faux-xenophobic rhetoric. Remarking on the “bench full of Kims” wasn’t enough for the gormless commentator. On half-time he declared that it was “a walk in the PARK” for South Korea. Because Park is a common Korean surname you see? Genius.

NB: I didn’t see ITV’s coverage of the England/USA game, so if anybody can shed some light on what I missed, feel free to add a comment.

Anglo/Korean relations

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.

South Korea 2-0 Greece

The Republic of Korea outclassed a lethargic Greek side en route to a 2-0 victory in Port Elizabeth. In truth, the scoreline could have been even more one-sided as Rehhagel’s much vaunted defensive tactics were undone by a tidy and ambitious Korean effort.

Any fears of a 0-0 stalemate were banished after seven minutes when uncharacteristically poor defending from Greece allowed central-defender Lee Jung Soo to pounce at the back post. A low free-kick was dispatched into the Greek penalty six-yard box where at least one of five Hellenic defenders should have dealt with the cross. The semi-empty stadium did little to contain the celebrations of the famously vociferous South Korean fans.

Greece had failed to score in any of their previous World Cup games, all at USA 1994, and relied heavily on diagonal passes into the Korean half. South Korea, as one of the shorter teams in the 2010 World Cup,  were obvious targets for lofty passes but their defenders showed impressive atheleticism and agility and actually had the better of Greek attackers Gekas and Katsouranis in the air.

South Korea were busy and tidy on the ball and showed composed containment when their opponents were on the attack.

Park Chu Young was set through on goal in the 27th minute after a lovely through-pass around from captain Park Ji Sung. A last ditch challenge from Papadopoulos and a fortuitous save off the boot of the Greek goalkeeper Tzorvas were all that prevented South Korea from taking a deserved two goal advantage.

Any incursions into the Korean half were dealt with effectively by an underrated Republic of Korea defence. They constantly sought to catch a sluggish Greece on the counterattack as their wingbacks  Lee and Cha broke free of their Grecian counterparts.

Win will be valuable in the quest to at least finish as runners-up to Argentina. The three teams are quite evenly matched and all capable of taking points from each other and potentially at least one of them may manage at least a draw against Maradona’s side.

As the teams emerged for the second-half, South Korea engaged in another huddle to recfocus on a task not yet completed.

They once again started brightly and scored the second goal that their performance deserved in the seventh minute of the second half. Vyntra needlessly gave the ball away to Park Ji Sung who strode past two challenges into the penalty area and slotted beautifully past the keeper.  When Park Ji Sung plays as well as he does here it is easy to see why he is so favoured at Manchester United. He has now scored in three consecutive World Cup Finals, a wonderful achievement for South Korea’s favourite son.

There was a palpable sense of frustration from the Greek players on the pitch. Torosidis encapsulated this with a rash challenge from behind earning himself a yellow card in the process.

Greece’s late chances were limited to crosses which posed little trouble for the Koreans. In fact it was not until the 80th minute that Jeung was called into action, showing good reflexes to deny Gekas who had very little opportunity to show the prowess in front of goal that allowed him to score ten goals in qualifying.

Even as South Korea eased off in the latter stages they still looked a far superior side both offensively and defensively. Throughout the game they looked lively in possession and could prove to be a more difficult obstacle than originally thought for Diego Maradona’s Argentina. The passion of 2002 seems very much alive in this squad, who seem more than eager to atone for a less than impressive showing in 2006.

As the final whistle was blown by New Zealander Michael Hester, the 11 Koreans on the field were joined by the substitutes who looked overjoyed at an opening victory. If they produce more performances like this then they may have further opportunity to celebrate as the tournament progresses.