Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Uruguay and Argentina Win Groups

Uruguay 1-0 Mexico

Uruguay finished top of Group A after a 1-0 victory over Mexico in Rustenburg to put them into the Round of 16. A game which many cynical pundits, me included, down for a draw and it was odds on the draw before the match started with most bookmakers, the first time this has ever happened. Finishing top of the group also means that Uruguay will avoid, barring some strange events, a "Battle Of the River Plate" against old rivals Argentina. Mexico also qualified for the Round of 16 on goal difference despite the Bafana Bafana defeating the disgraceful French 2-1 In Bloemfontein and they will now face the Albiceleste. More about them to follow.

Despite a promising start by Uruguay it was the Mexicans who nearly took the lead after a 30 yarder from Guardado came off the crossbar and away to safety. Diego Forlán had hand in the Uruguay goal right on hald time, his pass found Cavani who whipped in a super cross for Luís Suarez to head home. Mexico went close on the hour when Rodriguez should have done better with a Pablo Barrera cross and despite some late pressure Uruguay held on to record their second victory of the competition and their third clean sheet.

And making it a hat-trick here's yet another special contribution from Martyn Hindley for which we are grateful for.

Greece 0-2 Argentina

To read some previews of this World Cup, you would think that Argentina are the side bearing scars; the mental damage of a tumultuous qualifying campaign and the over-powering presence of an eccentric Head Coach who just happens to be one of the greatest footballers ever seen.

But with the Albiceleste due to take on Mexico in a knockout round for the third major tournament in succession, the psychological strain could weigh heavily instead on Javier Aguirre’s side with the CONCACAF side having won just one of their last thirteen meetings.

The Copa America semi-final of 2007 will thus be repeated in Johannesburg and also the rasping last-sixteen match of four years ago, that was settled by Maxi Rodriguez and his scintillating skill for the volleyed winner in extra-time.

Three wins from three is as good as it can get for Diego Armando Maradona, who celebrated wildly the manner of the latest one against Greece as if it were 1986 revisited. In truth, anything less in a group also involving South Korea and Nigeria would have had dissenters mumbling away even in the shadows of La Bombonera.

Greece were mystifyingly negative when presented with their chance to forge a pathway to the second phase and Maradona’s selection – containing just four of the players who had started against South Korea – were able to ease to victory.

It could be argued that the European Champions of 2004 were so deferential as to mean we can read nothing into the ninety minutes at all.

They had their moments, notably when Georgios Samaras missed with a dainty chip early in the second half following a slip by the otherwise dependable Martin Demichelis. But others were tougher to detect.

Maradona’s seven changes were expected but Lionel Messi being among those on the team sheet was a surprise. El Diez clearly sees a little in Messi of what he had in himself during the playing days, so one ex-Barcelona craftsman gave a contemporary Catalunya-dweller the captain’s armband in the absence of the rested Javier Mascherano.

It meant another place in the history books for Messi, two days shy of his 23rd birthday, the youngest to skipper Argentina. But tellingly, it also appeared to be an olive branch to a man on whom too much stifling pressure had been placed in qualification and this display was all about his new liberated-self in national colours, even at less than full tilt. It might have been crowned with a goal had the left-hand upright not foiled him for the second match running.

Goals instead came from Gonzalo Higuain in the last match and he was rested here in favour of Diego Milito. The Inter man somehow paved the way for the shackles to be broken 13 minutes from time, Demichelis heading into his body and then smashing home the rebound from the loose ball.

There seems a workmanlike honesty about Argentina that meant nobody begrudged them the goal; Maradona even saying that he couldn’t drop Messi because people had paid to watch him and deserved it; to rest would have been “a sin” in his eyes.

But the humility was more evident when Martin Palermo, the evergreen striker brought on late in the game at 36 years of age, repaid the faith of his coach with the second, crowning goal. The admiration was evident on El Diego’s face – not just a smile from one who donned the Azul y oro to another – but one of appreciation for the man who came back from a decade-long international absence to net the crucial goal against Peru in qualifying; ironically at the home of River Plate.

Juan Veron reported no discomfort on return from injury meaning that only Walter Samuel remains a doubt for Mexico at the weekend when maybe, we’ll start to discover just HOW special this Albiceleste side really can be.

Again, we've had to resort to the official FIFA site for highlights. They are subject to local restrictions and may not be available at the time this article was posted. UK readers may well be better off using the BBC website for highlights.

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