Argentina and Korea Republic will cross paths for the second time in FIFA World Cup™ history in Johannesburg on Thursday knowing that whoever seizes the spoils in their Group B meeting will take a giant stride towards the Round of 16.
There will be no such comfort for fellow section hopefuls Greece and Nigeria at Free State Stadium. On the other hand both will be desperate to kick start their 2010 FIFA World Cup bids following respective losses to the Taeguk Warriors and La Albiceleste last time out.
France opened their own account by drawing with Group A rivals Uruguay stirring memories of their run to the Final four years ago, when they began with a pair of stalemates. There will be no temptation to see if history can repeat itself, though, as they face a Mexico side still hoping to showcase their expansive football after their 1-1 draw with South Africa.
Argentina-Korea Republic, Group B, Johannesburg (Soccer City), 13.30 (local time)
Greece-Nigeria, Group B, Mangaung/Bloemfontein, 16.00 (local time)
France-Mexico, Group A, Polokwane, 20.30 (local time)
The big game
With the victors virtually guaranteed a berth in the last 16, the stakes have been unexpectedly raised for this contrast of styles between Argentina’s slick, technical approach and Korea Republic’s pacy, well-oiled routines. The only Asian side to have gone unbeaten through the qualifiers, the Taeguk Warriors eased to a comfortable 2-0 success against Greece to announce their arrival in the competition and are a team on an upward trajectory. With former striker Huh Jung-Moo (25 goals in 8 internationals) at the helm, they have just the tools needed to trouble their South American opponents, even if Diego Maradona’s men looked an improved proposition as they downed Nigeria 1-0 with superstar Lionel Messi in sparkling form.
Vela alone against old friends
Mexico striker Carlos Vela is hoping for a happy reunion when he comes face to face with his Arsenal team-mates in the France line-up on Thursday. Although Gunners left-back Gael Clichy is certain to be absent, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna and midfield revelation Abou Diaby will all be determined to block the 21-year-old’s route to goal. “It’s kill or be killed,” said Vela recently, and those words raised a few smiles within the France camp where the situation is much the same. Still, whoever comes out on top there is sure to be plenty of gentle ribbing back at the Emirates Stadium next term.
What they said
"Argentina’s main rival is Argentina, because if we play our football the way we did in the first match, we’ll be fine,” Lionel Messi, Argentina forward.
Superman: Born in Tashkent to a Nigerian father and Russian mother, 28-year-old Super Eagles striker Peter Osaze Odemwingie first learnt the ropes at CSKA Moscow and is back playing club football in the Russian capital with Lokomotiv Moscow after two seasons with Belgian side La Louviere, and three years in France with Lille. To wish him good luck as Lokomotiv’s only representative in South Africa, the club magazine recently featured him on their cover dressed as Superman and labelled ‘Odem-Wingman’.
Bad omens? Beaten 2-0 by Korea Republic in their first outing, Greece must now bounce back against two teams they also tackled at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Their upcoming opponents Nigeria saw them off 2-0 in the USA and the European side only fared worse against Argentina, succumbing 4-0.
French conundrum: France possess a wealth of attacking talents, but since lifting the Trophy in 1998 only three of their nine goals at FIFA World Cup final tournaments have come from strikers. Or, more precisely, from one striker – Thierry Henry. A genuine mystery.