Gonzalo Higuain fired a memorable hat-trick as Argentina wrapped up a thrilling 4-1 victory over Korea Republic to virtually assure themselves of a place in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup™.
There was some scintillating attacking football from La Albiceleste as they became the first team at South Africa 2010 to reach six points. Nudging Higuain for individual honours as Korea Republic – impressive winners over Greece in their opening Group B fixture – were torn apart was the mercurial Lionel Messi, who had a hand in all four goals.
Argentina were quickly into their smooth-passing style, switching the ball quickly to their creative talents, with Carlos Tevez eager to nag away at the Korean defenders. Angel Di Maria also demonstrated the potential to make it a difficult afternoon for Korea Republic right-back Oh Beom-Seok, who had come in for Cha Du-Ri. It was following a foul on the Benfica winger that Argentina went ahead. Messi's free-kick was perfectly judged, looping towards the penalty spot where it came off the shin of Park Chu-Young, leaving Jung Sung-Ryong powerless to keep it out.
A stunning right-footer from distance from Ki Sung-Yueng indicated that the Asian team were not going to take that blow lying down but chances were virtually non-existent as the South Americans continued in comfortable control, probing away and posing all manner of problems. Tevez zipped a free-kick just too high and on 32 minutes Argentina had their second goal. A free-kick was played short this time with Messi inviting Maxi Rodriguez to deliver the ball into the danger zone where it was flicked back towards the far post where Higuain was waiting to steer in a header.
It was so comfortable for Maradona's team with Sung-Ryong denying Di Maria, and Messi only fractionally wide after a wonderful jinking run that bemused a clutch of defenders. But then a lapse in concentration allowed the South Koreans back into the match. That certainly seemed to be the case with Martin Demichelis who was guilty of dwelling on the ball as the first half entered into added-on time and Lee Chung-Young took ruthless advantage.
After the break Sung-Ryong did well to keep out Higuain's effort but Diego Maradona's team, now without Walter Samuel, who was forced off with an injury, were vulnerable to Korea Republic's pace on the counter. That was never better demonstrated than in the 58th minute, when Park Ji-Sung slid a perfect pass into the stride of Yeom Ki-Hun, who could only hit the side-netting.
The last words went to Argentina however and Higuain. After a one-two, Messi tore into the area and saw his first shot repelled by the goalkeeper. His follow-up struck the inside of the post and there was Higuain to apply the final touch. Messi and Higuain were not finished yet. With ten minutes remaining Messi's beautifully executed scooped pass put Sergio Aguero clear down the left and his cushioned cross was met with a clinical header from Higuain to wrap up his hat-trick.