Argentina looks like world-beaters in win

BY Jamie Trecker • June 12, 2010

The goal came early after a sustained burst of pressure from the kickoff that saw Lionel Messi pulling the strings. Gabriel Heinze, inexplicably left all alone on an Argentina corner, snapped the ball home with an almost textbook header that glanced off the pate of Chidi Odiah.

The game was only six minutes old.

Argentina, which limped through qualifying and has been notably disorganized under Manager Diego Maradona (a man for whom the sobriquet “character” is insufficient), showed up today as arguably the tournament’s toughest, best-organized and most dangerous team. It was a shocking transformation, but hardly unexpected given the depth of talent and class on the roster.

That class shoved Nigeria into an untenable position: Forced to watch as the passes whipped around and past, the Nigerians kept eight men behind the ball, not a one confident enough to commit. At times the match took on the air of a training ground, with the Argentines attempting to thread graceful passes at oblique angles while a stunned, green-clad back line wondered what menace lay behind them.

Truly, had it not been for Enyeama and a couple of poor finishes, Nigeria would have been crushed early; Argentina could have been up 3-0 in the first six minutes.

The disappointment over Nigeria’s effort cannot be understated: The team looked ramshackle and cowed by the spectacle. Many thought African teams would get a lift from playing on their home continent, but Nigeria seemed to wilt under the kliegs. Reduced to persistent fouling, gifted two no-calls on clear penalties, and unable to control the ball through midfield at all, Nigeria was but the foil to Argentina’s master class.

The day’s opener was a surprisingly energetic contest in which South Korea ran all over a tired, weak-looking Greek side. Getting the first win of the World Cup, an organized, aggressive Korea won 2-0 behind goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Ji-Sung, and might have had a few more.

The Koreans displayed an impressive maturity, controlling every aspect of the game from the kickoff and daring an aging Greek side to keep up. It couldn’t, and by the 25th minute it was obvious that Otto Rehhagel’s men were out of gas.

Based on their performance, the Greeks may soon be out of the tournament. In contrast, South Korea looks like it can compete in this Group B; any team that fails to present an organized defense may be hard-pressed.

The eagerly anticipated nightcap featured the USA playing a shockingly poor English side off the pitch, but the Americans were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.

England opened the scoring early on a bad mistake when Emile Heskey wrong-footed a series of American players off a throw-in to find Steven Gerrard for the opener in only the fourth minute.

But the Yanks swiftly recovered and throttled the space, neutralizing the feared Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. The Americans were gifted the equalizer when Robert Green allowed Clint Dempsey’s shot to trickle through his gloves and into the back of the net in just the latest in a series of memorable English goalkeeping disasters.

On the balance, the Americans outworked, outthought and outplayed an English side that looked nervous and unimaginative. That said, the USA rarely went forward and was perfectly content to nick the point ahead of meetings with Slovenia and Algeria.

England has a dump truck full of questions to answer after this one, starting from its nets all the way up the field. The attack was static; the defense easily breached. As a team with dreams of reaching the finals, England should be badly shaken by this encounter.

As for the USA, it sits pretty, and fans should be impressed to see the organization and drive that the Americans demonstrated in flashes at last year’s Confederations Cup once again on display on the big stage.

Tomorrow

Group C rolls on with Algeria vs. Slovenia (7:30 a.m. EDT) followed by a Group D doubleheader: Serbia vs. Ghana (10 a.m. EDT) and Germany vs. Australia (2:30 p.m. EDT) Away from your TV? You can follow all games live right here on FOXSoccer.com and on Twitter (follow @championsonfox).

Must-see TV

Match of the Day is Serbia vs Ghana: This one could be a real battle. Nemanja Vidic is expected to start, meaning the Serbs have no injury woes. Ghana is missing Michael Essien and may struggle, but we still expect African teams to get a boost, so watch for Steven Appiah and Sulley Muntari to step up. Should be a thriller.

The other two? Not so much. The opener looks like a stinker, but USA fans should note that Algeria and Slovenia’s match can have direct bearing on how far the Yanks go. (Hint to USA fans: Root for the Desert Foxes in this one). Robert Koren is the key man for the Slovenes; Algeria is missing keeper Faouzi Chaouchi and defender Nadir Belhadj because they picked up cards in the African Nations Cup. Oy.

Germany vs. Australia looks lopsided on paper. The Aussies have a lot of heart, but even their coach, the caustic Pim Verbeek, says his boys are sub par. (German coach Joachim Loew is even more acid, telling the press that “Australia will offer everything but spectacle.” Ouch.) Expect Josh Kennedy to be the lone man up top for the Roos as they try to hold off Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Good luck, Oz.


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