Three quick thoughts on Greece-Nigeria (World Cup Group B)
Three quick thoughts after Greece's 2-1 win over Nigeria in Group B on Thursday:
1. What is it with German coaches? No country is providing more coaches at this World Cup than Germany, and now we know why. After Joachim Low's Germany smashed Australia 4-0, Ottmar Hitzfeld on Wednesday oversaw the shock of the tournament as Switzerland beat Spain 1-0, and now Otto Rehhagel pulls himself away from the precipice with this result. Rehhagel was hailed a Greek god after coaching Greece to a miraculous success at Euro 2004, and even failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup did not diminish his popularity. But that support looked to have come to an end after he dropped defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos from the South Korea game, a decision that led to a dressing-room rumpus that dominated postmatch reaction. (Rehhagel also managed to fall out with his captain, Giorgios Karagounis, whom he took off at halftime in that match.)
But just as comparisons with Greece's 1994 World Cup team (which played three, lost three, conceded 10 and scored none) were being made, Nigeria's Sani Kaita was sent off for a needless infraction and Dmitris Salpingidis scored Greece's first-ever World Cup goal, ensuring it was not the first team eliminated from the competition. By the time Vassillis Torisidis pounced to score, the team was on its way to a first World Cup win -- and Rehhagel was part of a new chapter in Greek football history.
2. Is it time to take a chance on African goalkeepers? Lionel Messi described Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama as "phenomenal" after he made five excellent saves against Argentina, and the Nigeria No. 1 looked impressive against Greece, flying to the rescue with superb stops against Theo Gekas and Giorgios Samaras. But then he spilled a relatively simple long-range shot from Karagounis and Torosidis was able to poke home Greece's winner. Espanyol's Carlos Kameni is the only African goalkeeper at this World Cup playing in one of Europe's major leagues, but he was surprisingly benched for Cameroon's defeat to Japan. Enyeama, currently on the books at Hapoel Tel Aviv, was on Arsenal's radar last season, but coach Arsene Wenger reportedly balked at the $3 million transfer fee. He had been linked with Premier League side West Ham at double the price, but will that one mistake cost him a move? And if he does go to England, will more African goalkeepers follow?
3. South Korea is the big winner. Despite losing 4-1 to Argentina earlier in the day, this result means South Korea needs to get more points from its game against Nigeria than Greece manages against Argentina to reach the next round -- a situation it would have gladly accepted at the start of the day. You have to feel sorry for Nigeria's Swedish coach, Lars Lagerback, who went into the tournament without his best player, John Obi Mikel, and likely leaves it after that moment of madness from Kaita, sent off after 32 minutes with his team totally in control. It did not help that Yakubu missed a one-on-one when it was 1-1, or that Chinedu Obasi sliced wide when confronted with an open goal.