Argentina 3-1 Mexico

Argentina have set up another FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final against Germany after overcoming Mexico 3-1 at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium. Carlos Tevez emerged as the hero with a brace of goals, while Gonzalo Higuain was also on target as Diego Maradona’s Albiceleste set up a rematch against their 2006 conquerors.

The Mexicans ultimately proved no match for their clinical South American opponents, yet it all started so promisingly for Javier Aguirre’s side, with Carlos Salcido rattling the crossbar with a stunning long-range drive after just eight minutes. There was another lucky escape for Argentina just a minute later, when Andres Guardado drilled in a shot from the edge of the box that spun away from the far post just as the net looked set to bulge.

Maradona’s side were hardly lacking in attacking menace themselves, however, and Lionel Messi soon embarked on one of his trademark elusive runs before attempting a chip over Oscar Perez that the Mexico keeper judged well. Messi’s hunt for a goal at South Africa 2010 continues, but it wasn’t long before the Barcelona talisman played a key role as another of Argentina’s star forwards opened his tournament account.

Carlos Tevez might have thought his chance had gone when Perez raced out to block bravely at his feet, but Messi was quick-witted enough to return the ball towards goal, where the Manchester City striker was waiting to head home. Breaking the deadlock enabled Argentina to take a firm grip on proceedings, and within seven minutes that hold was strengthened as Mexico reached for the self-destruct button.

Quite what Ricardo Osorio was thinking when he played a square pass to the feet of Gonzalo Higuain is unclear, but it was a gift the Real Madrid striker readily accepted, coolly dragging the ball around the grounded Perez before side-footing into the empty net for his fourth goal of the tournament.

Even with the best part of an hour remaining, it was difficult to envisage Mexico finding a way back into this match, and Argentina could have been out of sight altogether by half-time had Higuain not headed wastefully wide with the goal at his mercy. Maradona’s men are capable of scoring at any time though, and from any situation – as Carlos Tevez proved six minutes into the second half.

The Albiceleste No11 benefited from a fortuitous break 25 yards from goal, but there was no luck involved in what followed, with Tevez lashing an unstoppable drive into the top-right-hand corner for one of the goals of the tournament. Mexico must have realised the game was up at this stage, but it was to their credit that they continued to attack with conviction, and they should have pulled a goal back on 63 minutes when Javier Hernandez headed over when it seemed easier to score.

The Manchester United-bound youngster made amends with 19 minutes remaining, however, brilliantly turning Martin Demichelis on the edge of the box before rifling a stunning left-foot shot into the roof of the Argentinian net. It would prove scant consolation for the crestfallen Mexicans, but while El Tri return home with their dreams dashed, Argentina can begin plotting revenge against some familiar foes.

 

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Argentina vs Mexico – Lineup

2 Martin DEMICHELIS
4 Nicolas BURDISSO
6 Gabriel HEINZE
7 Angel DI MARIA
9 Gonzalo HIGUAIN
10 Lionel MESSI
11 Carlos TEVEZ
14 Javier MASCHERANO (C)
15 Nicolas OTAMENDI
20 Maxi RODRIGUEZ
22 Sergio ROMERO (GK)

Argentina 2-0 Greece

Argentina booked a last-16 date with Mexico as their two Martins – Demichelis and Palermo – ended Greece’s faint hopes of qualification by wrapping up a 2-0 victory in Polokwane. Greece had kept the South Americans at bay until the 77th minute but they could do little to prevent Diego Maradona’s side from securing top spot in Group B with an impressive win at the Peter Mokoba stadium.

Otto Rehhagel’s side simply needed to better the result of Korea Republic to claim a place in the last 16, and with Maradona rotating his starting 11, as expected, with no fewer than seven changes from the side that swept aside Korea Republic, the Greeks could must have felt more confident of achieving their aim.

However, there was no doubting Greece had a Herculean task on their hands, and they were virtual by-standers in the opening minutes as Argentina stroked the ball around confidently, guided by the returning Juan Veron. Lionel Messi, lively from the start, demonstrated his threat as early as the tenth minute, riding the challenges of Konstantinos Kastouranis and Alexandros Tziolis, before eventually being stopped in his tracks by the outstretched leg of Sokratis Papastathoppoulos.

Greece were defending in numbers in a bid to thwart their opponents, and were relying on long balls into Georgios Samaras in any bid to switch defence into attack. However, if Rehhagel’s side were slowly finding their feet – only the outstretched leg of Martin Demechelis brought an end to Samaras’s promising charge into the box 12 minutes in – Maradona’s side were still well in command.

And when the southern Europeans’ sporadic attacks broke down, the action quickly switched back to the other end, where Alexandro Tzvorvas was unquestionably the busiest man of the night. Sergio Aguero smashed in a left-footed drive which he athletically palmed away, and the Greece goalkeeper had to be equally alert moments later, when the power of the long-range drive from Veron was only matched by the quality of Tzvorvas’s tip-over.

If Greece were going to claw their way back into this game it was going to be through Samaras. Just two minutes into the second period, the Celtic forward was picked out with another long ball but, despite wriggling free of his markers, he could only flash his shot wide. However, the momentum remained with Argentina, who needed just a draw to see them into the last 16. Diego Milito might have headed them into a lead, but the striker failed to connect with Clemente Rodriguez’s dangerous-looking cross and, shortly after, Rodriquez had a go himself from long range but was unable to find the target.

Messi and Mario Bolatti were both thwarted by Tzvorvas as the decibel level rose in the Peter Mokaba stadium. And the noise levels went through the roof in the 77th minute when Demichelis’s goalbound header from an Angel Di Maria corner rebounded off Milito and back into the path of the Argentina defender, who gratefully smashed home a left-footed shot to give Maradona’s side the lead they had long threatened.

Messi, Argentina’s captain for the night, was denied by the post and then Tzvorvas in the dying minutes, but Greece could do nothing to stop Martin Palermo from side-footing home Argentina’s second a minute from time after Messi had again been thwarted.

 

Argentina vs Greece – Lineup

2 Martin DEMICHELIS
3 Clemente RODRIGUEZ
4 Nicolas BURDISSO
5 Mario BOLATTI
8 Juan VERON
10 Lionel MESSI (C)
15 Nicolas OTAMENDI
16 Sergio AGUERO
19 Diego MILITO
20 Maxi RODRIGUEZ
22 Sergio ROMERO (GK)

Argentina 4-1 Korea

Gonzalo Higuain fired a memorable hat-trick as Argentina wrapped up a thrilling 4-1 victory over Korea Republic to virtually assure themselves of a place in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup™.

There was some scintillating attacking football from La Albiceleste as they became the first team at South Africa 2010 to reach six points. Nudging Higuain for individual honours as Korea Republic – impressive winners over Greece in their opening Group B fixture – were torn apart was the mercurial Lionel Messi, who had a hand in all four goals. 

Argentina were quickly into their smooth-passing style, switching the ball quickly to their creative talents, with Carlos Tevez eager to nag away at the Korean defenders. Angel Di Maria also demonstrated the potential to make it a difficult afternoon for Korea Republic right-back Oh Beom-Seok, who had come in for Cha Du-Ri. It was following a foul on the Benfica winger that Argentina went ahead. Messi’s free-kick was perfectly judged, looping towards the penalty spot where it came off the shin of Park Chu-Young, leaving Jung Sung-Ryong powerless to keep it out.

A stunning right-footer from distance from Ki Sung Yueng indicated that the Asian club were not going to take that blow lying down but chances were virtually non-existent as the South Americans continued in comfortable control, probing away and posing all manner of problems. Tevez zipped a free-kick just too high and on 32 minutes Argentina had their second goal. A free-kick was played short this time with Messi inviting Maxi Rodriguez to deliver the ball into the danger zone where it was flicked back towards the far post where Higuain was waiting to steer in a header.

It was so comfortable for Maradona’s team with Sung-Ryong denying Di Maria, and Messi only fractionally wide after a wonderful jinking run that bemused a clutch of defenders. But then complacency a lapse in concentration allowed the South Koreans back into the match. That certainly seemed to be the case with Martin Demichelis who was guilty of dwelling on the ball as the first half entered into added-on time and Lee Chung Young took ruthless advantage.

After the break Sung-Ryong did well to keep out Higuain’s effort but Diego Maradona’s team, now without Walter Samuel, who was forced off with an injury, were vulnerable to Korea Republic’s pace on the counter. That was never better demonstrated than in the 58th minute, when Park Ji-Sung slid a perfect pass into the stride of Yeom Ki-Hun, who could only hit the side-netting.

The last words went to Argentina however and Higuain. After a one-two, Messi tore into the area and saw his first shot repelled by the goalkeeper. His follow-up stuck the inside of the post and there was Higuain to apply the final touch.

Messi and Higuain weren’t finished yet. With ten minutes remaining Messi’s beautifully executed scooped pass put Sergio Aguero clear down the left and his cushioned cross was met with a clinical header from Higuain to wrap up his hat-trick.

Argentina vs Korea – Lineup

2 Martin DEMICHELIS
6 Gabriel HEINZE
7 Angel DI MARIA
9 Gonzalo HIGUAIN
10 Lionel MESSI
11 Carlos TEVEZ
13 Walter SAMUEL
14 Javier MASCHERANO (C)
17 Jonas GUTIERREZ
20 Maxi RODRIGUEZ
22 Sergio ROMERO (GK)

Argentina 1-0 Niggeria

Argentina joined Saturday’s earlier winners Korea Republic on three points in Group B with a 1-0 victory over Nigeria at Johannesburg’s packed Ellis Park. Gabriel Heinze scored the game’s only goal with a diving header from a corner in just the sixth minute, although the two-time FIFA World Cup™ winners could have added more if not for the heroics of Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and their own wasteful finishing.

As early as the fourth minute, FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi burst through the Super Eagles’ defence and set up Gonzalo Higuain in front of goal, but the Real Madrid man blazed wide of the target. Two minutes later Messi tested Enyeama from 20 yards out, but the Israel-based goalkeeper saved well with a dive to his right. However, from the resulting corner, Heinze ran forward and found himself all alone directly on the penalty spot, and he made no mistake with the chance. The early goal sent coach Diego Maradona into raptures on the sideline, and surely he must have thought there was more to come.

Messi was a constant thorn in the side of the Nigeria defence, and in the 18th minute he cut inside and curled a left-footed shot towards goal from 25 yards out. But Enyeama was up to the task with a fine save at his post. Three minutes later, the Albiceleste threatened again but Higuain blasted his point-blank shot right into the goalkeeper. Enyeama was the Nigerian hero another time shortly after, denying Messi with his fingertips when it seemed like his curling shot would sneak in.

The introduction of Obafemi Martins early in the second period sparked Nigeria into life. The Wolfsburg forward showed his pace on the hour to latch onto a through-ball and play in Sani Kaita but he blasted over from 25 yards out. As the match opened up, Argentina found more room in the attacking third. In the 65th minute, they counter-attacked quickly to find themselves four-on-two and bearing down on the Nigeria defence. Carlos Tevez slid the ball dangerously into the middle, Angel Di Maria let the ball carry on to Messi, but the Barcelona superstar hit his shot agonisingly wide. Messi then set up Higuain for another opening, but Enyeama was again the victor in that head-to-head duel.

In the 71st minute, Nigeria left-back Taye Taiwo blasted a shot just wide of the post from the edge of the area, injuring himself in the process. His replacement, Kalu Uche, had the best chance of the night for the Super Eagles in the 83rd minute, but he failed to keep down an effort from 12 yards out despite being left unmarked. Nigeria next face Greece on 17 June in Manguang/Bloemfontein, while Argentina and Korea Republic will battle it out for the top of the group at Johannesburg’s Soccer City on the same day.