In the battle of outsiders in Group-B contest, a result in favor could prove to be morale boaster for the rest of the tournament. If Argentina–Nigeria match produces the expected result, then a win for either Korea Republic or Greece will be a huge step forward for a berth into the knockout stages.
Korea Republic’s fortune will rely heavily on their tremendous stamina, which makes every player in the squad to literally cover each and every blade of grass on the pitch. The highest standard of work ethics coupled with inspirational leadership of Man United winger Ji Sung Park can grind the result in their favor.
The Koreans suffered two successive defeats against Belarus and Spain in their last two warm-up matches after they got the better of fellow Asian rival Japan in their first warm-up match. However, the Korean’s missed the services of captain Ji Sung Park and playmaker Lee Dong-Gook in these practice matches. Both have recovered well and are set to feature in the starting line-up against Greece – reason enough for the Korean’s to be better motivated.
On the other hand, Otto Rehhagel, the Greek coach, has to start the campaign with a depleted squad. Christos Patsatzoglou and Giourkas Seitaridis have recovered from their injury, but lack match fitness. Rehhagel might just opt to leave them out of the starting eleven.
But the most hurting news for the former European champions is the eleventh hour blow in the form of Vangelis Moras. The pillar of the Greek defense has been ruled out of the opening encounter with a niggling hamstring injury suffered during training sessions.
The key player for Greece going into this contest will be Panathinaikos playmaker Giorgos Karagounis. Karagounis’s calm, composed approach and excellent vision of the game can bring in the much needed assurance for the younger players to excel under his guidance.
Head-to-Head Record: 2 matches; both ended in draws.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Korea Rep: Played 24, 4 wins, 13 defeats.
Greece: Played 3, 0 wins, 3 defeats.
Other Key Facts:
(1) Greece are yet to score, or pick up a point in a World Cup.
(2) Korea have won just one of their last 17 World Cup matches played abroad.
(3) Last WC meeting: None. This their first ever meeting in a World Cup.
Player To Watch Out For: Ji Sung Park (Korea Republic)
The team revolves around talismanic Manchester United winger Ji-Sung Park, who not only contributes to the attack but also frequently tracks back to regain lost possession. Polished with the exposure of playing in the highest level of European football, Park has the ability to pose threat to any opposition defense with his sheer pace.
The Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg is all set to witness two magicians of their respective era together – Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest player ever to grace the game of football and Messi, the numero uno of modern day soccer. It will be intriguing to see whether Maradona would be able to shield his magic to deliver his country yet another World Cup triumph – and do the rare double as the captain and the coach of a World Cup winning nation.
It is going to be a make or break sort of affair for Maradona himself. Maradona, who is known to wear passion on his sleeves, has to prove to the critics that he has the managerial insight to mould a quality side on paper into World Champions. Argentina team is still undecided about their possible line-up and formation.
Throughout the qualifying campaign, Argentina has deployed a 4-4-2 formation but the recent rumors suggest that Maradona is likely to set up a risky three defender combination, which can very well turn into a recipe for disaster – according to the football analysts. Undoubtedly Argentina’s biggest strength is their unmatched attacking force. But is this the right time to experiment and expose the weak link?
Playing 3-4-3, Maradona will be able to accommodate his preferred Messi-Higuain-Tevez combo upfront, but it would also pose threat against raiding speedy fullbacks, who will run havoc by creating space on the flanks. 4-3-3 can be a better bet for Maradona; because it can hide their defensive susceptibility and yet allow them to go in with Messi-Higuain-Tevez combination. Also, it would be wise to keep an eye on Angel Di Maria. This Argentine winger is capable of producing spectacles.
Nigeria, on the other hand, have traditionally been the powerhouse of African football. Although their dominance in Africa is on a steady decline, they are still considered to be a tough nut to crack – especially because of their determination and a never-say-die attitude. The opportunity to play in their home continent is another major advantage.
The news of John Obi Mikel to be ruled out for the entire tournament has clipped a wing off the Super Eagles. Now it is up to the Everton duo of Joseph Yobo and Yakubu Aiyegbeni to take over the extended responsibility of organising the defense and attack, respectively and also to revive the morale of the team. Watch out for Obafemi Martins and Dickson Etuhu – these two are quality players.
Last World Cup Meeting: Argentina 1—0 Nigeria in Korea-Japan’02.
Head-to-Head Record: 2-0 in favor of Argentina. One match ended in a draw.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Argentina: Played 65, 33 wins, 19 defeats.
Nigeria: Played 11, 4 wins, 6 defeats
Other Key Facts:
(1) Argentina have won their last four opening games at the World Cup.
(2) Argentina were the lowest scoring team to qualify from South America.
(3) Nigeria have never beaten a non-European side at the World Cup.
Player To Watch Out For: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Who else than the reigning FIFA Player of the Year? The Messiah is not only the player to watch out from Argentina, but from the world cup, as a whole. With lightening pace, incredible dribbling and immaculate vision of the game – the stage is just about perfect for the magician to light up Africa’s first ever World Cup. Often been criticized for under-performing in the national colors, it will not be surprising if he shuts his critics up in the greatest carnival of world football.
The Three Lions will start their campaign in the World Cup against, perhaps, one of the toughest, determined and fast improving nations of world football – the USA – at the Royal Bafokeng Arena, Rustenburg. With both the teams expected to get elevated to the knock out stages from this group, this match could be vital in securing top spot in the group and avoid Germany in the possible second round clash.
The match revives the history of “The miracle match” from the 1950 World Cup, when USA beat the title contending English side in one of the biggest WC upsets till date. The Americans will hope for a repeat performance and the confidence is high among Bob Bradley’s boys after two comprehensive victories over Turkey and Australia in the build-up matches.
It will be interesting to witness the battle between the talented combination of USA’s strikers, Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan, against England veteran John Terry. If England concedes an early goal, USA might opt to park the bus in front of their goal-mouth making life tougher for Rooney and co. However, the fact here to be noted is that the Americans last tasted success against the Three Lions way back in 1993 in a friendly match.
On the other hand, Fabio Capello’s men, led by Liverpool amulet Steven Gerrard would look to forget the Ferdinand blow and continue the excellent qualifying form to start off the campaign on a winning note.
Gerrard is expected to share the midfield responsibility with Frank Lampard, whereas Joe Cole is likely to start on the left wing ahead of an injured Gareth Barry. Ledley King is the probable replacement for injured captain Rio Ferdinand, while John Terry will support him in central defense.
England certainly have better specialist players in every position, but USA have the quality to suppress their lack of individual brilliance with excellent team work. Can USA continue their Confederation cup heroics?
Head-to-Head Record: 7-2 in favor of England.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
England: Played 55, 25 wins, 13 defeats
USA: Played 25, 6 wins, 16 defeats
Other Key Facts:
(1) England have lost only one of their last eight opening matches at World Cups.
(2) Last WC Meeting: England 0—1 USA in Brazil 1950.
Player To Watch Out For: Wayne Rooney (England)
PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers Association’s Footballer of the Year in 2009–10, Wayne Rooney will surely be the man to keep an eye on. Scoring 34 goals in 44 appearances this season for Manchester United, Rooney has rekindled the hope of the British fans to lift up the crown after a wait of 44 long years.