World Cup Daily: U.S. heroic, Greece putrid, Messi shines
After losing to South Korea, Greece has yet to win a World Cup game
Argentina looked exciting going forward but shaky defensively against Nigeria
A gutty performance by the U.S. saw Bob Bradley's men hold England
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Good things don't always come to those who wait. Greece waited 16 years to get to another World Cup, and gave a terrible account of itself in the day's opening game. England vs. USA was one of the most anticipated matches for some time on both sides of the Atlantic, but ended in a 1-1 draw that failed to show the best of either team. Only Argentina was rewarded for its patience, earning three points against Nigeria to silence the doubters, at least for now.
As an aside, a British boffin has decided that now is the time to rubbish FIFA's claims that the World Cup is made of solid gold. Nottingham University's Martyn Poliakoff says the trophy would weight 154 pounds if that were true, making it tough for players to lift above their head, as they like to do on winning it. Admitting that he's never been into soccer (and didn't even watch England's 1966 triumph as a teenager), Poliakoff says: "I think -- and I have no means of knowing -- that perhaps the ball at the top is hollow. I don't think it would be light enough for people to wave above their heads, and also it would be a big waste of gold."
It's hard to ignore Lionel Messi's performance against Nigeria, which featured everything but a goal. Early on, his shimmying runs through any number of players who tried their luck set up Gonzalo Higuain, who poked wide, but Messi wasn't put off trying. He slalomed through Nigeria whenever he fancied, and on several occasions tested the only person who could compete for today's title, Vincent Enyeama. The Nigeria goalkeeper had a day to remember, preventing a far heavier defeat with at least two memorable saves from Messi and Higuain.
Otto Rehhagel wouldn't have looked odd stood in the dugout with a crooked staff, given the whole herd of goats he fielded against South Korea today. But England goalkeeper Robert Green wins this one hands down for the blunder that presented the U.S. with a goal ready gift-wrapped.
Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit will get plenty of slaps on the back for their containment of Wayne Rooney for at least the first hour of the U.S.' draw with England, but their colleague Steve Cherundolo deserves credit for a superb performance at right-back. He kept James Milner in his pocket to the extent that Milner was replaced after half an hour, and his replacement, Shaun Wright-Phillips, didn't fare much better. Cherundolo made some incisive runs forward in the first half, too, and has a cross on him to suggest Jonathan Spector could be a spectator in this tournament.
Greece really can be as bad as last time. It hadn't qualified for the finals since its dismal showing at USA 94, when it bombed out with three defeats and a goals column of 0-10. But it had won Euro 2004 in the meantime, and top-scored in its (admittedly uninspiring) qualifying group to get here via the playoffs, so we can be forgiven for hoping for better than the insipid display we got earlier today.
Park Ji Sung played his usual productive game for South Korea, including the pass of the game on 27 minutes, when he played the ball through midfield for Park Chu Young. His goal, South Korea's second, was befitting of his efforts -- picking up a loose first touch from Loukas Vyntra and running at goal, evading a desperate tackle from Avraam Papadopoulos and Vyntra's frantic attentions, he slotted the shot beyond Alexandros Tzorvas no fuss.
Diego Maradona's attacking formation against Nigeria meant that Messi was often afforded plenty of space in the hole, and he delighted in it even if he didn't manage to find a way past Enyeama. Maradona doesn't come across as the kind of manager to lose sleep over defensive frailties, but the chances Nigeria created running down the wings probably should pierce his dreams.
"To begin a World Cup in winning fashion gives you a certain sense of calmness" -- Maradona, after spending 90 minutes leaping around his technical area, frantically gesturing to his players, and dishing out hugs and kisses.
Confirmation of the battle in midfield during England v USA: pass completion rate was 64.54 percent, the lowest of any game so far. South Africa v Mexico tops the list with 73.21 percent of passes completed.
Taye Taiwo hobbled out of Nigeria's defeat to Argentina after toe-poking a powerful shot, and seemed to have hurt his knee in the process, while Ledley King's halftime exit seemed to signal at least a strain on his knee.
Algeria's new captain Antar Yahia is a doubt for tomorrow after taking a knock to his ankle in training, but Ghana's Sulley Muntari has been passed fit to face Serbia.
Andres Iniesta trained on his own again today but the Spain camp is hopeful that he'll be fit enough to play against Switzerland in its opening group game. Ivory Coast is less hopeful of having Didier Drogba fit, with his broken arm still causing trouble.
Slovenia's Aleksander Radosavljevic insists he and his teammates are taking it one game at a time, but they'll be keen to get points on the board against Algeria tomorrow, with England and USA still to face.
Previews to the World Cup focused on Serbia's tough defense, and then they leaked three goals in a 4-3 friendly win over Cameroon. Which is probably why Muntari says Ghana "don't know quite what to expect." Probably a cagey affair, as both sides fancy their chances of making the knockouts alongside Germany.
The Germans in turn, face Australia tomorrow, and Lukas Podolski and Marko Marin have promised the Aussies a torrid time at the back: "The Australians will be playing deep and it will be important to 'tear them apart', so to speak, by putting balls in from the wing."