Argentina 1-0 Nigeria
Special contribution on this game from Martyn Hindley, to which we are grateful for.
To the uninitiated, this was the same old Argentina – hugely superior against Nigeria, but like four years ago, opening up with a margin of victory that didn’t tell the full story.
One goal was enough to account for the Super Eagles and for all of the sparkle on show it was scored in sleeves-rolled-up style; the industrious Gabriel Heinze – one of only two starting survivors from the opener against Côte d’Ivoire four years ago, stooping to power a firm header beyond Vincent Enyeama from Veron’s precise corner.
So was this the Albiceleste that treaded water in qualifying? The disjointed rabble that did for Peru in the pouring rain after the hammering in Bolivia and the fans’ revolt of Rosario after Brazil stormed to a 3-1 win? Well, no. In fact, this was a much improved showing.
16 years after the infamous drug-test failure in the United States, Diego Maradona didn’t feel as though he had anything to prove to the footballing WORLD but instead, to the Argentine public. His selection was that of a team unit not a collection of individuals and on the field, it was fairly solid except for Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, whose inclusion must have had Cristian Ansaldi scratching his head watching with the Rubin Kazan squad on summer tour.
Lionel Messi was less of a parent to the remainder than a colleague in this game, so much so that Nigeria forgot to monitor his progress for much of the first half. His first touch almost brought a delightful ball for the onrushing Carlos Tevez, his second contribution – a curling 20 yarder with minimal backlift – drawing an outstanding save from the enigmatic Enyeama.
Compared to that game in USA 94, won by the brilliance of Claudio Caniggia, Nigeria here were guilty of showing far too much respect. Time was so normal as a commodity for Messi that he found the supply line to Gonzalo Higuain open regularly in the first half. The Real Madrid man was foiled by man-of-the-match Enyeama and still, the Higuain-Milito question rages on, the latter having come off the bench for an enterprising final 11 minutes.
Of course, so astronomical are the expectations of Maradona’s mob that 1-0 can only be celebrated in hushed tones. Had Kalu Uche smashed Nigeria’s main chance beyond the underworked Sergio Romero rather than getting underneath an awkward bounce, then El Diez would have had his bubble burst.
Plusses outweigh minuses. Veron’s distribution was everything that fans of Estudiantes have come to expect but with his legs now 35 years young, a tournament team needs options with the boundless energy of South Korea to come next at Soccer City on Thursday and those are provided by Maxi Rodriguez, benched in this game but solid on his introduction.
There remains a slightly lopsided look to the midfield but the return of discipline to this Argentina side was as if Maradona just dusted down some of his own from the Napoli Scudetto year and fetched it from his cupboard. It might not have been the rugby score adored by Pumas fans but in football World Cups, foundations are laid first, trophies later. The concrete may well set.
France 0-0 Uruguay
Last night saw the first scoreless draw of the tournament as France and Uruguay finished scoreless in Cape Town. The only thing of note to happen in the game was the first red card of the tournament for Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro. A game of few chances will see more questions asked for Les Blues than Uruguay, whose best chance fell to Diego Forlan.