World Cup Daily: Argentina puts on a show; France looks clueless
Lionel Messi and Argentina hit their offensive stride in a 4-1 rout of South Korea
Mexico's 2-0 victory put 2006 finalist France on the brink of elimination
Greece took advantage of Sani Kaita's ejection, which left Nigeria a man down
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Forrest Gump was right about the box of chocolates. First thing we bit into was the caramel centers, and were treated to the sweet football of Argentina. South Korea never gave up, and enjoyed spells of relative pressure either side of halftime, but the Argentines had more of the ball and looked entirely comfortable on it. Going forward, they got somewhere close to mesmerizing, yet seemed to be playing entirely within themselves. There were, inevitably (Jonas Gutierrez retained his place in the back line), defensive wobbles, but Argentina will worry anybody when it's on the front foot.
Greece and Nigeria provided the nougat -- enjoyable but always a chance someone will lose a tooth. Nigeria kept its promise to attack and was enjoying the best of the game against Greece until midfielder Sani Kaita lashed out needlessly. From then on, the game was a frantic comedy of errors that either side could have snatched as easily as Nigeria ended up handing it over.
The last game of the day saw France lose to Mexico without scoring a goal, and the French bench ended the game like it'd just bitten down on the dreaded orange cream. Clueless from start to finish, France looked like a team that had only just been introduced (despite half of the starting XI being survivors of the 2006 squad). Mexico, meanwhile, produced the smart attacking football we expected. And as French heads drooped in the second half, the Mexicans just got smarter.
Another game, another forest falls for all the eulogies written to Lionel Messi. How he has yet score a goal remains a mystery but he was involved in the build-up to all four of Argentina's goals. Players and managers still insist on moaning about the official match ball (though curiously, there seems to be no consensus as to whether it moves too much or not enough), but Messi's control of it, with the exception of a couple of curlers that dropped wide, is exquisite. He stood up to some fairly muscular tackling from South Korea, too.
Crowded field, but Kaita kicked his way to the front with an ill-judged lunge at Vasillis Torosidis half an hour into Nigeria's meeting with Greece. With the ball having gone out of play for a harmless throw-in near the halfway line, Kaita approached the Greek defender, who was holding the ball, and attempted to bury several studs into his thigh. There wasn't much contact, and there's a delightful split second during which you can actually see Torosidis remembering to wince and fall over. But still, why?
Midfielder Alexandros Tziolis did a solid job in the Greek midfield, defending while Nigeria had the better of the game and pushing forward when given the chance. Georgios Karagounis in particular benefited from his impressive 90 percent pass completion rate, and Tziolis had a handful of shots on goal. For all his running in the first game against South Korea, it was today that Tziolis made an impact of any quality.
Notoriously defensive Greece manager Otto Rehhagel reacted instantly -- and positively -- to the dismissal of Kaita by swapping defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos out for forward Georgios Samaras. There was an instant change in his side, which equalized Kalu Uche's early goal within 10 minutes. All right, so in reality the shot also took a huge deflection off Lukman Haruna's heel, Greece struggled to maintain the momentum in the second half, and the winning goal came only when previously excellent Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama parried an Tziolis shot directly into Torosidis' path. But this may be the most positive football we see from Greece (next up, Argentina) for some time.
Argentina's fourth goal stood out from the rest with the kind of rapid build-up play that characterizes some of the World Cup's best. Halfway inside his own half, Messi passes a quick free kick to Sergio Aguero, who races toward goal before playing the ball to Gonzalo Higuain, who places it into the path of Messi about 25 yards out from Jung Sung-ryong's goal and scurries into the area. Messi dinks a cute little ball over the South Korean defense and into the path of Aguero on the left, who pokes it across the area with the outside of his boot. Higuain, waiting for his hat trick, nods it back across goal. The whole thing takes 15 seconds.
Diego Maradona was going to get this entire paragraph: With 15 minutes left and South Korea only a goal behind, he didn't exactly emphasize defense by swapping Carlos Tevez for Aguero. The move paid off -- Aguero was instantly involved in the two goals that put Argentina ahead 4-1. But we must now move on to the subject of Raymond Domenech, about whom there are no questions of madness or genius. Neither of the substitutions he made were logical, let alone effective, and he couldn't make a third because his subs went and stood behind the goal so they could moan about his tactics to each other without having to whisper.
"It's shameful to lose like that. We can't leave the World Cup without winning a match." -- Interviewed after trotting about for 90 minutes, Florent Malouda belatedly succumbs to a spot of national pride.
2 -- when Park Chu-young unwittingly pinged the ball into his own net against Argentina, the number of own goals so far in this World Cup went up to two. The record (hit in 1954, 1998 and 2006) is four.
German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has missed some training this week due to a cold, but is unlikely to miss out on Friday's match with Serbia. No such luck for Algerian goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi, who injured his knee in training and won't get the opportunity to make up for his goof against Slovenia when his side plays England.
It's worth setting your alarm because the early kick-off (7.30 a.m. ET) sees Germany back in action, with Serbia the lucky team to spend 90 minutes sharing the same pitch. Serb wingers Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic struggled to assert themselves against Ghana, while the press box ran out of superlatives watching Germany's Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski working the wings against Australia. Ever pragmatic, the Germans have spent the last few days focusing on ways to keep 6-foot-8 striker Nikola Zigic at bay.
Not long after that, of course, the U.S. is back in action, against Slovenia. Both teams benefited from goalkeeping howlers in their first games, and, as SI.com's tactical brainbox Jonathan Wilson examines in detail, have similar strengths. Slovenia looked limited against Algeria, however, while the U.S. showed enough verve against England to suggest that the Slovenians will spend longer on the back foot.
In the last game of the day, England will want to try to rack up a decent goal difference against Algeria just in case. It's not always easy to foresee how England will turn out, since Fabio Capello doesn't even tell the players until two hours beforehand, but it seems certain that Gareth Barry will move into the middle, with Steven Gerrard shifting out to the left. Mr. Popular, Emile Heskey, might lose his spot to Jermain Defoe, but the really big deal is whether Rob Green keeps his place in goal. Rumor has it David James is set to step in.