Argentina finished off group B participation with a much deserved win over Greece today. In doing so they knocked out the Greeks and set themselves up for a round of 16 showdown with Mexico, a repeat of Germany 2006. Argentina had a perfect first round and its victory today extended the domination of South American teams, who now have a combined record of 10W-0L-2D.
The Argentines took the field with 7 “reserves” in the starting line up. The only starters to play today were Messi, Veron, Demichelis, and the keeper. The term “reserves” is used lightly because players such as Aguero, Milito, Maxi Rodriguez, Nicolas Burdisso can hardly be considered back ups as they would start for a majority of the teams in this tournament. Maradona decided to give his first liners a day off since they had all but clinched their berth in the previous 2 games. Besides, it was correctly assumed that the second team of Argentina would be more than enough to get the job done over a Greek team that has shown little ability to score in this tournament. The Greeks started off well by applying nice pressure up front and causing the Argentines to back peddle a little in the opening 15. After that it became a 1 man attack for the Greeks as they entered their defensive cocoon. Samaras was left all alone up front and expect to do miracles. He did have a couple interesting plays but only 1 chance of converting. It was only a matter of time until Messi or another talented player converted on one of the many opportunities generated.
It was finally Demichelis who converted on a corner kick rebound that gave him a point blank shot at the net which he did not waste. Messi was on and off again, showing spurts of genius and then signs of frustration as he cannot put together the great game everyone is expecting. He is playing very well, but it seems like the entire team wants him to get his first World Cup goal out of the way. You can really tell the frustration building in him. He had a couple nice runs that ended with him blasting one either off the post or an inch off it. One of his nicest plays ended with him launching a bomb from outside the penalty area that the keeper pushed to his right, the rebound was picked up by Martin Palermo, the old veteran had subbed in minutes prior, all alone and he executed perfectly. The score was 2-0 and the clocked showed 89 minutes, the game was over.
Palermo, a 36 year old Boca Juniors legend, was brought to South Africa, many believe, as a reward for scoring the winning goal in injury time against Peru in the penultimate qualifying game. That goal made it possible for Argentina to finish 4th in the qualifier and enter the finals directly. It was nice to see Palermo cap off his illustrious career by netting a goal in his only World Cup game. Maradona takes care of “his boys” as evidenced by the confidence given to Palermo, it remains to be seen if his boys will take care of him as the team looks to return to glory after a 24 year drought. One thing is for sure, Argentina is one of the most exciting teams to watch, whether that be because of the massive amount of talent on the field, the offensive mentality of the team or Diego on the sidelines. Maradona is a one man sideshow on the sidelines, jumping around, chewing out the refs on every occasion, cheering on his team like a cheerleader and celebrating with his team like he was on field of play. Love him or hate him, his passion for the game is palpable on the sidelines and he is drawing more attention than his excellent team is.
Up next for Argentina is Mexico, who pushed them to overtime last time around in 2006. Anything can happen in the round of 16, Mexico is a top team than can beat anyone on any given day. I just hope the round of 16 will be the game we finally see Messi celebrate a goal.
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Written by The Gator Great