Argentina have all but secured their place in the last sixteen following a convincing 4-1 victory over South Korea. Building on the foundations laid against Nigeria, La Albiceleste once again exhibited some fantastic attacking play, including a hat trick for Gonzalo Higuain, and have a laid down a serious marker for the other favourites in the competition.
The starting eleven was unchanged except for the inclusion of Maxi Rodriguez, in place of the injured Juan Sebastian Veron. La Selección started in positive fashion, Angel Di Maria shooting narrowly wide after just three minutes. Keeping the ball superbly, Argentina’s patient passing game meant the first half was played almost exclusively in the South Korean half, the Asians struggling to see anything of the ball. A seemingly inevitable breakthrough came on 16 minutes, when Lionel Messi’s free kick was, somewhat unfortunately, turned into his own goal by Korean striker Park Chu-Young.
The Koreans were providing little cause for concern, but a worrying moment did occur midway through the half, when Walter Samuel was forced to withdraw through injury. However this did little to affect Argentina’s rhythm and shortly after the half an hour mark Higuain doubled the South American’s lead. Nicholas Burdisso, Samuel’s replacement, flicking on a Maxi Rodriguez cross and Higuain heading home from close range.
To describe the half as one sided would be something of an understatement, yet seconds before the break La Albiceleste gifted the Koreans a life line. Martin Demichelis foolishly dwelt on the ball and was dispossessed by Lee Chung-Young who coolly converted. Demichelis’ error has since been blamed on the noise created by the much maligned Vuvuzela, but what ever the reason his lapse in concentration had given the Koreans an unlikely route back into the game.
Seemingly boosted by their goal, South Korea appeared much more dangerous in the second half and should have equalised on 57 minutes when Yeom Ki-Hun fired wide following a fast counter attack. Meanwhile, Argentina seemed set to repeat the profligacy which had undermined the victory over Nigeria, with Korean goal keeper Jung Sung-Ryong denying both Messi and Higuian. However, La Albiceleste finally killed the game on 75 minutes when Higuain tapped in after Messi had been denied by Sung-Ryong and the post in quick succession.
Within five minutes Higuain had completed his hat trick, converting a Sergio Aguero cross from close range following a fine counter attack. ‘El Pipita’ joins an illustrious group of 45 players to have scored a World Cup hat trick and is now the tournaments leading goal scorer. Aguero, who had been introduced as a substitute, came close to scoring himself embarking on a fine solo run only to shoot narrowly wide.
This emphatic victory almost certainly ensures La Selección place in the last 16, and demonstrates the fearsome attacking power at Maradona’s disposal. Tougher tests await, but for now La Albiceleste must be considered serious contenders for football’s greatest prize.
Romero: 6– Another quiet game for the goalkeeper but was solid when called upon.
Gutierrez: 6– Rarely put under any pressure but a silly booking means he will miss the final group game.
Samuel: 6.5- Only on the pitch for twenty minutes due to injury but didn’t put a foot wrong.
Demichelis: 5.5- Entirely at fault for South Korea’s goal and will need to improve as the tournament progresses.
Heinze: 6.5– Defended well and always looked threatening at set pieces.
Mascherano: 7– Another strong performance from the skipper, worked hard as always and largely nullified the threat of Park Ji Sung
Maxi Rodriguez: 6.5– Unable to match Veron’s range of passing, but worked hard and provided the cross for the second goal.
Di Maria: 7– Much improved, continually asked questions of the Korean defence and although he faded a little in the second half the Benfica winger was impressive none the less.
Messi: 7.5– Almost unstoppable at times, this is the Messi we are used to seeing at Barcelona. Glided past defenders at will and only some excellent goalkeeping has prevented him from finding the net.
Tevez: 7– Never gave the Koreans a moments peace.
Higuian: 8.5– More then atoned for Saturday’s poor performance by scoring a fantastic hat trick. Yes they might not have been the hardest of finishes, but you have to be in the right place at the right time to score and that’s exactly what ‘El Pipita’ did. Will do wonders for his confidence.
Burdissio: 6.5– Defended solidly after replacing Samuel.
Aguero: 7– An impressive cameo, provided an assist and came close to scoring a wonder goal of his own.
Bolatti: N/A- A late replacement for Higuian.