Argentina topped Group B with another fine display in a 2-0 win over Greece, Otto Rehagel setting his Greek side up to defend once again despite needing a win to progress themselves. It almost worked, too, with Argentina only breaking the deadlock in the 77th minute, Dimichelis stealing onto a loose ball from a corner to smash home. Martin Palmero put the game to bed in the 89th minute, the 74-year-old Boca Juniors man firing home the rebound after Leo Messi had done the hard work once again.
Messi has been man of the match in each of Argentina’s group games but, amazingly, is yet to put his name on the scoresheet. Absolutely no-one is bothered by this as everything else he does is basically perfect, and it’s to Maradona’s credit that the wee wizard is finally reproducing his club form for his country. The goals will surely come and Messi will fancy his chances against a defensively suspect Mexico side in the second round.
Maradona has been fantastic, providing Mourinho-like levels of good copy in his press conferences, jumping up and down in his technical area like an angry dwarf during matches, but most of all for putting together such a coherent attacking unit. His critics were desperate for him to mess this up and prove them right: the repeated insistence from the BBC’s team that Jonas Gutierrez is a disaster waiting to happen at right-back – an opinion surely not in any way connected to Alan Shearer’s dismal record as Newcastle manager (P8 W2 D1 L5, fact fans!) – being a notable case in point.
South Korea join them, their 2-2 draw with Nigeria sealing second place in the group and a meeting with Uruguay in the second round. They will count themselves extremely lucky to be there at all as Nigeria missed a host of chances to win the game and qualify themselves. Just two minutes before scoring the penalty that drew Nigeria level, Yakubu somehow missed an open goal from three yards out, sidefooting just past the post. Of course I’ve seen enough episodes of Quantum Leap to know that if he scored there he wouldn’t then have won the penalty two minutes later, and the entire course of human history would change just like that, but still, silly Yakubu.
Group B in one sentence: thank fuck Greece didn’t qualify.