A Gonzalo Higuain hat-trick and a terrific display of attacking prowess inspired Argentina to a crushing 4-1 win over Korea Republic in a World Cup Group B match played at Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg. The win virtually assures Les Albicelestes a place in the knockout stage.
Argentina made one change from the eleven that featured in the game against Nigeria; Liverpool’s Maxi Rodriguez replaced an injured Veron in central midfield. Some scintillating attacking moves by Maradona’s boys threatened to tear apart the Korean side in the first quarter of the encounter. The combo of Messi-Tevez-Di Maria mesmerized the 82,000 strong crowd with terrific demonstration of silk-touch passing.
One such move just after the quarter of an hour mark via the left wing saw Di Maria being unfairly brought down outside the Korean box. Messi’s perfectly judged free-kick missed Martin Demichelis’s attempted header and unfortunately crossed the goal-line after getting deflected off Park Chu-Young’s right shins, leaving goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong with no chance.
Argentina kept attacking in waves and Gonzalo Higuain came close to doubling the lead in the twentieth minute. The only meaningful attack from Korea in that period was a long range effort from Celtic’s Ki Sung Yueng, which sailed over. Even after the utmost domination over their Asian rivals, Maradona looked a bit worried when Argentina’s rock at the back Walter Samuels pulled a muscle and was forced to be replaced by Nicolas Burdisso mid-way through the first half.
Argentina continued to attack and Tevez’s thunderous strike from thirty-five yards out went agonizingly above the cross bar. Incessant pressure from the Albicelestes paid off just after the half-hour mark, when Lionel Messi and Maxi Rodriguez combined well and the latter’s looping delivery was flicked on by Burdisso’s head towards an unmarked Gonzalo Higuain inside the six yards box. Higuain gleefully accepted the gift and scored with a textbook downward header at the far post.
Seven minutes before halftime, the Soccer City crowd almost got what they prayed for, when Lionel Messi attempted a delightful chip, dodging past four Korean defenders while leaving his marker aside, only to see his effort miss the far post by a whisker.
A momentary lapse of concentration by Bayern Munich center back Martin Demichelis prompted a lurking Lee Chung-Yong to round-off Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero with a clinical finish in first-half injury time. South Korea went into the half-time break with the slight hope of reviving their form and equalizing the score-line.
South Korea started off the second half brightly and ventured into Argentine box on a couple of occasions, but without any success. On the other hand, five minutes after the restart, Korean keeper Sung-Young did well to deny Higuain his second of the day. In the very next minute, Di Maria and Higuain combined well to play a delightful through ball to Tevez. Tevez’s excellent effort was brilliantly saved by the Korean custodian Sung-Young.
South Korea immediately set off for a counter-attack and a moment of madness saw Jonas Gutierrez and Javier Mascherano getting cautioned for unnecessary fouls. With two yellows in as many matches, Gutierez will miss Argentina’s last group stage game against Greece. Two minutes later, Korean captain Ji-Sung Park unleashed a defense-splitting pass towards an unmarked Yeom Ki-Hun, but the midfielder wasted a glorious opportunity to put Korea level, by firing wide.
It was only a matter of time when Maradona joined the party, and it prompted the biggest cheer of the day. When the ball went out towards the dugout for a throw-in, the Argentine Legend showed a glimpse of his old magic with an audacious and delightful flick, which had the vuvuzelas buzzing at their highest possible decibel.
A jubilant Maradona proving the critics wrong
Sergio Aguero replaced Carlos Tevez with fourteen minutes left on the clock, and he made an impact on the game in that time. His wonderful ‘one-two’ with Messi resulted in the little genius forcing a brilliant save from the Korean keeper. However, the rebound fell straight to Messi, and this time, his attempt was thwarted by the goal post, only for the ball to land at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain for the simplest of tap-ins.
El Papita was not finished yet. Great positional awareness from the Real Madrid striker allowed himself to be picked up by a cute Aguero chip in the 81st minute, which he headed nonchalantly across to the far post to complete a wonderful hat-trick.
Right on the final whistle, Sergio Aguero almost wrapped things up with a sensational individual goal, but his shot went inches wide of the far post. However, Maradona’s boys wrapped-up the match with a thumping 4-1 victory to send a loud warning to the title contenders.
The Hard Tackle’s Player of the Match:
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The little magician went closer to the destined greatness with yet another scintillating performance. He was a constant threat for the Korean defense and assisted in all the four Argentine goals. Unfortunate not to get into the score-sheet, but a Man of the match performance nonetheless.
The Hard Tackle’s Referee Report Card:
Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium) – Grade: B
A decent performance from the Belgian veteran. A bit over strict with the yellow cards, especially while booking Yeom Ki Hun for what was not such a dangerous tackle. Also missed to spot a blatant Angel Di Maria handball. However, he controlled the flow of the match commandingly.
ARGENTINA 4-1 KOREA REPUBLIC
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
Argentina Line-up: Romero, Gutierrez, Demichelis, Samuel (Burdisso 23′), Heinze; Rodriguez, Mascherano, Di Maria; Messi; Tevez (Aguero 76′), Higuain (Bolatti 82′)
Manager: Diego Maradona
Caution: Gutierrez 54′, Mascherrano 55′, Heinze 74′
Korea Republic Line-up: Sung-Ryong, Beom-Suk,Yong-Hyung, Jung-Soo, Young-Pyo; Ji-Sung, Jung-Woo, Sung-Yong (Kim Nam 46′), Chu-Young (Lee Dong Gook 81′), Lee Chung-Yong; Ki-Hun
Manager: Huh Jung Moo
Caution: Ki Hun 10′, Chung Yong 34′
Scorers: Park Chu Young 17′ (Own goal), Lee Chung Yong 45’+1