Despite resting some of their big names, the Albiceleste still boasted a side that could compete at the highest level. Milito, playing in his usual role as a centre-forward, was flanked in offense with his strike partners – Lionel Messi on the right, and Kun Aguero on the left. Greece, rolled out a surprising formation betraying their defensive mindedness and reliance on a counter-attacking ploy, with only Samaras up front. As the anthems were sung, a visibly gleeful Maradona waved with abandon at the cameras. In retrospect, the Greeks should have probably seen it as an omen of things to come. Greece were, after all, the last opponents Maradona had scored against in a World Cup, in a game mostly remembered for Batistuta’s hat-trick.
In the initial minutes of the game, Argentina were content to stroke the ball around showing none of the urgency that characterized their previous two outings. Otto Rehhagel’s men, on the other hand, were finding it hard to get the ball up front – having to rely on long balls, in the face of Argentina greater on-field presence. Lionel Messi was called into action in the tenth minute as he wove his way around a crowded Greek defense only to be dispossessed at the edge of the penalty box. A couple of minutes later, Argentinians flooded the Greek penalty area but Maxi Rodriguez could only watch as his ball deflected off the solid Greek defense. Greece caused a moment of nervousness for the favorites, when a superb long ball from Katsouranis found Samaras who almost found his way past a desperate Demichelis.
A first-class second-string side
Argentina’s earliest threatening set of passes, culminated in Aguero making an unchallenged run before unleashing a stinging shot that Tzorvas did well to push out of play. The ensuing corner, taken by Messi, saw Veron send the ball whizzing through the air only for the Greek custodian to make a snap save and keep his side in the game.Around the half-hour mark, with Argentina dominating possession and tempo, Karagounis unleashed a fiercesome long ball that missed the outstretched leg of Samaras, who had well and truly beaten his marker by then. At the other end, as Tzorvas spilled an earlier attmept to collect the ball, Kun Aguero positioned himself to take advantage of a vulnerable Greek goal only for Vyntra to block the shot in the nick of time. As the clock ran down on the first half, the nerves began to show as the hitherto genial atmosphere of the game soured – with the referee having to step in to defuse the situation. There was high drama at the close of the first half, as Greek hero Tzorvas made two back-to-back saves of strikes from Maxi Rodriguez and a vicious one from Lionel Messi. With the Koreans drawing Nigeria at half-time in the other encounter of the day, Greece had it all to play for.
The second half started off with Greece having their best chance of the game, with a Katsouranis long ball finding Samaras yet again. The stretched Argentinian defense and distracted goal-keeper were clearly not enough help for Samaras as he fluffed the shot wide, across the face of the goal. With injuries plaguing the Greek side, Otto Rehhagel had to take off some of his better players in the form of Torosidis and Katsouranis and bring on the lesser accomplished Patsatzoglou and Ninis. Maradona brought on his first substitution in the form of Angel di Maria to replace Maxi Rodriguez. The Greeks had their goalkeeper to thank again, as he kept out a long strike from Messi and then bore the brunt of one from Bolatti. Tzorvas survived yet another scare as an attempted clearance of his, bounced back off Moras dangerously close to the goal he was guarding. Maradona rung in the second of his changes taking off the impressive Aguero for Pastore, and his side rewarded him instantly with a goal off a corner that bounced off Milito’s arm, to set up perfectly for Demichelis who slotted it in.
Lionel Messi, impressive thoughout the game, had a well-deserved chance to score but could only slam the ball right into the post with five minutes of regulation time to go. Another impressive run and shot from the little maestro, ended up bouncing off an unlucky Tzorvas to land in the path for Martin Palermo who accepted the opportunity with arms wide open. Greece, stung by the second goal, attacked the Argentinian goal almost immediately but Romero was more than up to it as the Argentinians sealed a well-deserved victory.
TheHardTackle’s Player of the Match:
Alexandros Tzorvas (Greece)
The Greek custodian had a magnificent game making several saves, and turning in a stellar performance to keep the likes of Messi and Aguero out. He struck a forlorn figure at the end of the game as his side went out of the tournament, despite his heroics. Had it not been for Tzorvas, the Argentinians would have waltzed away with a much more flattering scoreline.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Ravshan Irmatov – Grade B+
Had quite a decent outing, letting the game proceed at its own pace. He was called upon towards the end of the first half, to smooth over a few ruffled feathers on the field. He scores low only in falling for the inevitable play-acting from players on both sides and failed to spot what may have been a handball from Milito.
ARGENTINA 2-0 GREECE
Greece Line-up: Alexandros Tzorvas, Avraam Papadopoulos, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Vangelis Moras, Vasilis Torosidis (Christos Patsatzoglou 55′), Loukas Vyntra, Giorgos Karagounis (Nikos Spyropoulos 45′), Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kostas Katsouranis (Sotiris Ninis 54′), Alexandros Tziolis, Georgios Samaras.
Manager: Otto Rehhagel
Argentina Line-up: Sergio Romero, Nicolás Burdisso, Martín Demichelis, Clemente Rodríguez, Nicolás Otamendi, Juan Sebastián Verón, Mario Bolatti, Maxi Rodríguez (Angel di Maria 63′), Sergio Agüero (Javier Pastore 76′), Diego Milito (Martín Palermo 80′), Lionel Messi
Manager: Diego Maradona
Scorers: Demichelis (77′), Palermo (89′)