Saturday, June 12, 2010

Argentina v. Nigeria, Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Result: Argentina 1  Nigeria 0  Take Away: Argentina should have no problem going through to the next round, but they looked suspect defensively at times.

The setting for this match was Ellis Park, the site of South Africa's Rugby World Cup triumph, made famous in the US by the movie Invictus.
The most famous member of Argentina's entourage is its controversial coach Diego Maradona.  Maradona's coaching chops are more than a little suspect, having used 38 players in the eight qualifiers for which he was in charge and using a system of play that doesn't necessarily highlight the talents of FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.  But, the 49 year-old FIFA Player of the Century (with Pele) did manage to guide Argentina to South Africa after taking over in November of 2008.

For this match Maradona elected to go with his big three up front--Messi, Manchester City star Carlos Tevez and striker Gonzalo Higuain.  Their skill was evident right from the start.  Four minutes in Messi danced through the Nigerian defense and slid a square ball to Higuain six yards out which the Real Madrid striker inexplicably side-footed wide.  A minute later Messi again found himself in space at the top of the box and played an beautiful curling left-footed shot ticketed for the upper right-hand corner that Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama did well to push wide.

The Albiceleste were rewarded on the ensuing corner as left back Gabriel Heinze went unmarked at the penalty spot and directed a diving header into the upper left hand corner of the net.  Six minutes in, Argentina 1, Nigeria 0.

Messi in particular continued to wreak havoc missing on another beautiful shot in the 37th minute that was also well saved by Enyeama, but couldn't find the net and went to the half up one.  The strength of the Argentine side was evidenced by the fact that they were able to bring Champions League Final hero Diego Milito on as a substitute in the 79th minute.  The scoreline held and Maradona's side collected their three points.

The Nigerians competed well, but few African nations are known for their defensive prowess and the Super Eagles did nothing to make one reasses that line of thinking.  Most visibly, down one with three minutes left in regulation time the Argentines knocked the ball around for a full two minutes as the Super Eagles looked on passively.  They will have to step up in their next two matches or their tournament will be a short one.  Their match versus South Korea on the 22nd is one to circle on the calendar.

No comments: