Argentina flexes its muscles
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain celebrates a goal during World Cup action against South Korea at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. (REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian)
JOHANNESBURG – Argentina has announced its presence at the World Cup.
And they did it in a bold, loud and entertaining way.
Gonzalo Higuain benefited from Lionel Messi’s generosity to score a hat trick to lead Argentina to a 4-1 win over South Korea Thursday at the World Cup in South Africa.
Argentina now has six points after two games to lead Group B.
It was about time one of the big teams stepped up and took charge of a World Cup game.
The wait has seemed interminable.
In a tournament that has not seen a lot of magical moments, the trio of Messi, Carlos Teves and Higuain provided plenty.
“There’s nothing better than scoring a hat trick at your first World Cup,” Higuain said. “We’re happy because we played a great game in every way. We played good football. We created chances and we were clinical in front of goal.”
It was a wonderful display of skill and ball control by the Argentines, the kind of soccer everyone has come to expect from them. They provided excitement on the field against South Korea, the same sort of excitement they’ve been providing off the field all tournament.
That has come courtesy of Diego Maradona, the man, the legend, the mouth.
Not a problem though. It seems that Maradona says what he wants and doesn’t worry about the consequences.
Wednesday, he ripped two soccer legends – Pele and Michel Platini – then a day later watched as his team went out and played one of the best games of the tournament.
Maradona merely takes the pressure off the players and puts the focus on himself, leaving the team to go about the business of playing soccer. There is some question about his coaching ability but with the kind of talent he has, perhaps the biggest thing he needs to do is let his players play.
As a player of legendary status himself, he recognizes that any coach who stifles talent is doing the opponents’ defensive job for them.
Right now, Argentina and Germany look like the favourites to win the World Cup.
Against the South Koreans there was no mistaking the South American football dance.
The tic, tap, tic, tap, tic, tic, tap of the ball finding its way from foot to foot and the lightening quick runs from zero to top speed in no time at all.
There was nothing mysterious about the story of the game.
From midfield in, Argentina moved the ball sideline to sideline until an opening appeared.
The one troubling note was an injury to Argentine defender Walter Samuel. The back end is one spot Argentina might struggle.
An own goal by Park Chu Young got the Argentines on the board and they doubled the lead on a well-worked set piece that found the head of Higuain.
The Koreans managed to steal a goal as the referee was putting whistle to mouth to end the first half when Martin Demichelis fell asleep and allowed Lee Chung Yong to poach the ball at the top of the penalty area. He went on to score to cut the Argentina lead.
It was a breath of life for South Korea and they tried to make the most of it. But while they pressured for a while, Argentina didn’t allow another goal.
“Their goal was a shot in the arm for us and we went out and played with even more determination after the break,” Maradona said. “A headline to sum up today’s game? ‘Argentina were implacable.’”
A great run ended with a save by Ryong Sung Jung and a second Messi shot off the post left Higuain a tap-in goal. Then a great Messi flick pass eventually resulted in a Higuain header for the fourth goal.
That was Argentina at its best.
And what about Messi at his best?
In the first half he produced a moment of wizardry. He took the ball at the top of the South Korean penalty area, twisted and turned in the midst of four defenders and worked his way clear. He stopped at 18 yards and lofted a chip over the goaltender that floated wide by inches.
It was brilliant.
Just like Argentina.