Though there has been no shortage of setbacks for the big-name nations here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Argentina made light of pre-tournament uncertainty to cruise through Group B with a 100 per cent record. Qualifying in second spot were 2002 semi-finalists Korea Republic, who edged out Greece and Nigeria.
Argentina: Diego Maradona’s team underlined their class going forward, particularly in their final two group encounters, and in Lionel Messi boasted a genuine superstar in flying form. Though La Albiceleste’s backline did look shaky on occasion, as a unit El Pelusa’s charges gave the impression of going from strength to strength. Nine points, seven goals scored and just one conceded attest to that.
Korea Republic: The Taeguk Warriors put in a fine showing in their opening win over Greece only to then go down to 4-1 to Argentina. They were able to bounce back in time, however, and earned a place in the Round of 16 thanks to a lively 2-2 draw with Nigeria. Whether they repeat their FIFA World Cup feat of eight years ago or not, Park Ji-Sung and Co are capable of giving any side a tough game.
Greece: True to form, Otto Rehhagel’s Greece were rugged in defence throughout, though they also scored their first FIFA World Cup goals and picked up their first win via a 2-1 reverse of Nigeria. Nevertheless, their defensive nous was not matched going forward, a factor which saw them head for home with just three points in the bag.
Nigeria: The Super Eagles had been one of the most fancied African sides prior to the tournament, only to end up falling at the first hurdle. Under the guidance of Swedish coach Lars Lagerback the powerful Nigerians paid a heavy price for their wayward finishing in clear goalscoring situations. Their exit is another blow to African fans hoping to see one of the continent’s teams reach the latter stages.
Moments to savour
Maradona last trod the FIFA World Cup stage as a player at USA 1994, where he appeared in his last-ever match in the tournament against Nigeria. Sixteen years later and El Pibe de Oro was back, this time as a coach, and facing the very same opponents. His elegant appearance and the raucous ovation he received at Ellis Park was one of the highlights of South Africa 2010 so far.
First time for everything
Greece had played four games spanning two tournaments without managing to find the net. Their goalscoring drought, which had lasted 404 minutes, would finally be ended by Dimitrios Salpingidis’s deflected equaliser in the win over Nigeria – his country's first victory and points in the history of the competition.
Consolation for custodian
Nigeria may be heading for home after a less-than-positive campaign, though keeper Vincent Enyeama will have some happy memories of his displays at South Africa 2010. The Super Eagles’ outstanding performer, the agile shot-stopper was voted Budweiser Man of the Match in his side’s matches against Argentina and Greece.
Korea Republic’s Taeguk Warriors showed battling spirit in spades to recover from their heavy reverse at the hands of Argentina and hold Nigeria to a draw. Their exuberant dancing, celebrating and singing after sealing a Round of 16 berth was also a sight to behold, particularly for those who thought the Korean squad were a shy bunch.
8 – The number of FIFA World Cup games Nigeria have gone without a victory. The Africans’ last success was a 2-1 win over Bulgaria at France 1998, but since then the Super Eagles have racked up two draws and six defeats.
The final word
“I wasn’t myself in qualifying but I’ve changed now. How? Now I feel comfortable and happy as part of the squad, thanks to my team-mates and to Diego. I feel at ease; it’s the first time that’s happened. I feel like I do at Barcelona, and that’s reflected out on the pitch,” Lionel Messi, Argentina attacker.