World Cup South Africa 2010: Catching fire

Higuaín completes his hat-trick

Well, it’s fair to say the sceptics didn’t expect this. The noises coming from the Argentina camp about team unity and just needing to spend some time together look like they weren’t just hot air – on Saturday the selección played a match that was meant to be much harder than their opener, and it ended in a thrashing, Diego Maradona’s men running out 4-1 winners over South Korea with Gonzalo Higuaín – who didn’t even play that well – scoring a hat trick. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was another highly impressive performances, and some of us (yes, ‘us’, I’m not denying my own inclusion) who didn’t think Argentina could possibly go beyond the quarter-finals will be revising our predictions upwards if this carries on.

Higuaín’s hat trick came, ironically, in perhaps the worst performance he’s put in for the national side. He was able to miss another good chance early on, but after the scoring had been opened for Argentina thanks to an own goal from Park Chu-Young after sixteen minutes, he slipped into gear. Higuaín’s first and Argentina’s second was a downward header which, really, Jung Sung-Ryong in the Korean goal should have saved, but it found its way through at the near post and Argentina had a two goal lead. Following Walter Samuel’s injury – a thigh strain he was already carrying going into the game flared up again and he was replaced with Nicolás Burdisso – Martín Demichelis made a hash of controlling the ball, and Lee Chung-Yong capitalised to give South Korea a lifeline on the stroke of half time. Argentina led 2-1.

In the second half, Higuaín added two more, both of them tap-ins, but the simpleness of the finishes belied the incredibly approach play as Lionel Messi, superb again, combined brilliantly with Carlos Tevez and, after the Manchester City man was taken off, his replacement Sergio Agüero to help set Higuaín up. The final goal was perhaps the best of the World Cup so far. Messi was again unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself – Higuaín’s second came after Messi had hit the post, and La Pulga came within inches of scoring on two occasions – either one, had it gone in, would have been a contender for goal of the tournament.

It wasn’t a flawless performance. Jonás Gutiérrez got, as predicted, more protection from Maxi Rodríguez than he had from Seba Verón on Saturday against Nigeria, but was still sufficiently stretched to pick up a second yellow card which rules him out of the decisive group game against Greece on Tuesday. Demichelis’s error for the South Korean goal was only the most visible part of his underwhelming performance – in the second half South Korea attacked down the right, cutting between Gabriel Heinze’s and Demichelis’s zones of defence, and Yeom Ki-Hun flashed a shot wide when he should really have equalised. None the less, it was a more clinical display than against Nigeria, and the momentum now seems to be building nicely.

Messi’s performance demonstrated, if anyone had doubted it, that he’s now arrived in an Argentina shirt and that Saturday’s game wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and Ángel Di María was a big improvement (if still not exactly spectacular). Man of the match though has to be Carlos Tevez – even if the official FIFA award went to the player who scored the most goals, Higuaín – who showed all the good bits of his performance against Nigeria but cut out the overhit passes and spells of relative anonymity which had slightly dragged down that otherwise excellent showing.

Greece’s comeback (the first of this World Cup) to beat Nigeria 2-1 means Argentina can still go out, but it will take an almighty swing in the goal difference of the group. Maradona’s men are all but through, and will play Greece on Tuesday knowing that a point will confirm their position as group winners. Their most likely opponents, then, in the round of sixteen? It’ll be either a rematch of the 2006 epic against Mexico, or the clásico rioplatense against Uruguay on the world stage.

World Cup South Africa 2010, Group B, Thursday 17th June: Argentina 4 – 1 South Korea

A postscript: Gonzalo Higuaín is only the third Argentine to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Finals. The men who did it previously were Guillermo Stábile, against Mexico at Uruguay 1930, and Gabriel Batistuta on two occasions, against Greece at USA 94 and Jamaica at France 98.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that South Korean journalists were strongly critical of the manager Huh Jung-Moo in the build-up to the game. From the team’s training sessions, it had seemed that after beating Greece the Koreans returned to training the next day and immediately started preparing to play Nigeria, having apparently decided they weren’t going to get anything from Argentina anyway. All the same, they had only two shots fewer than Argentina – the difference was Argentina got five of theirs on target, whereas South Korea could manage only two…

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18 thoughts on “World Cup South Africa 2010: Catching fire

  1. I think Argentina need to fix up their defense real quick before being caught by teams stronger than the likes of Nigeria and Korea. Also I think Aguero or Milito should start instead of Tevez coz I think his international goals to game ratio is not very good…

    1. Munish, I agree about Tevez’s goalscoring but the thing is, he was the best player on the pitch today, and they scored four (three without any help from the opposition) anyway.

      If I was going to start Milito it would have to be in Higuaín’s place. As for Tevez and Agüero, Agüero and Tevez… Carlitos hasn’t done anything to merit being dropped yet. And Kun is a pretty handy impact sub to have…

  2. Are you drunk, Mr Kelly? Were you indulging in some soothing afternoon moonshone in the Álamo? Or did the sunshine down in San Martín fry your brain?

    “Argentina’s second was a downward header which, really, Jung Sung-Ryong in the Korean goal should have scored.”
    “Messi was again lucky not to get on the scoresheet himself.”
    “He also came…”

    Edit, man, edit!

    1. Still not been anywhere near the Alamo, Pegame. Thanks for the pointers though, they’ve been edited (along with another couple I spotted whilst I was doing so!). I was cooking whilst typing this up earlier, as well as reading about Charlie Chaplin on Wikipedia. Haven’t had any alcohol but all these 8:30 starts are playing havoc with my attention sp

    2. To put things straight, Sam has not been swilling suds and battling his way through the yuppie hordes at El Alamo. Rather he has been lounging at Gibralter, downing cider after cider and witnessing yours truly kicking butt on the pool table.

  3. Looking good, but so were Argentina 4 years ago (6-1 v Serbia). Its gonna be a repeat of the 2nd round (Mexico) and quraters (Germany) of 4 years ago. Thank god the negative Pekerman isnt in charge this time, to take off the strikers and protect a one goal lead. At least Maradona will make the team play to their strengths and attack. Go on Diego, you legend!!

  4. A hugely enjoyable game. Demichelis’s mistake made the second-half unnecessarily nervous, but otherwise it was a very impressive performance from the team. Messi again stamped his authority on the side, and is beginning to look like a real leader. Tevez ran him close for man of the match, and Di Maria was much better than in the previous game. I’m still not convinced by Higuain (he seems really ‘tight’, if that makes any sense) but he was in the right place for his goals, which is an often overlooked quality in a striker. We looked sharper and more pacy with Maxi in midfield, so it will be interesting to see if Veron is reinstalled for the Greece match (I hope Maradona’s faith in him isn’t ‘blind’). Mascherano and Heinze also had good games, as did Aguero in his brief cameo. The one big worry obviously is the defence. Though his doing his level best in the position, Jonas is no right-back, and Demichelis is a liability. Let’s hope Samuel’s injury isn’t too serious. Romero has an erratic style, but he’s young, and I think we’re lucky to have him. Credit too, to Maradona. He’s taken a hell of a lot of flak since he took over, but the mood in the camp is excellent, and in a competition of mostly dire football, he is one of the few coaches who is setting his team up to attack. This is one of the things that makes me proud to be an Argentina fan – we may not be perfect, but at least we try to play the game in the right way. Roll on Tuesday!

    Can I also say, HEGS, that I am so pleased to have discovered your site. I have long been a fan of La Albiceleste, but have never had the chance to share my passion with other like-minded fans (as an Englishman, it’s not the easiest thing to admit to my fellow countryman!). However, having found sites such as yours and MundoAlbiceleste, it’s going to be so much more fun following the team!

  5. That defense is going to continue giving me nightmares, but look at the manner in which that 4th goal was scored. Wonderful approach play. And it’s to the advantage of players like Tevez and Higuain that every coach will be wanting to put at least 2 players on Messi.

  6. Nice to see Serbia upend Germany, despite Vidic’s inexplicable handball. You deserve to lose when your coach appears to have been dragged out of his bed about 10 minutes before the match.

  7. Demichelis is frustrating me. I know that he can be a good defender. I think his confidence took a rattling after his poor, injury-riddled season, he never chases people down anymore. Which is a crying shame, because when he tries he is a great, safe tackler.
    Come on Micho, gather your shit and play how I know you can. I can only defend you in so many arguements. In a way, I am glad he did something dumb sooner rather than later–maybe this will be a kick in the teeth and he won’t have a concentration lapse again.

    I still think Milito would be a better choice than Higuain. Tevez and Messi were beautiful though, and Di Maria is beginning to shine. Overall, beautiful performance! Looking forward to more of this, minus the silly defense errors.

  8. What is wrong with you people “still not convinced by Higuain”, “Milito would be a better choice”. The man scored a hatrick. What the hell do u want him to do? Are you ever happy??

  9. It is not that we are unhappy with his hatrick, but to be frank all those goals were practically given to him by Messi and Tevez. Higuain is definetly a quality player, but IMO he doesn’t shine the same way that Milito can.

  10. I just dont get your argument. How can he “shine” more than scoring a hatrick?? I dont care if all 3 goals were tap ins like the second goal he scored. If a striker scores a hatrick hes done his job and cant be dropped. The two headers weren’t easy chances. The man is always in the right place at the right time. Thats probably the most important characteristic of an out and out goalscorer, which Higuain is.

    1. Murt, I think people’s argument is over your last sentence. Higuaín is much more than an out-and-out goalscorer (as indeed is Milito). As the Argentine press keep saying, he’s not a Batistuta, he doesn’t live for goals and goals alone – Bati would’ve scored three against Nigeria and four or five against South Korea, given the chances Higuaín had.

      That being said, and even though I stand by what I said in this post that this was possibly Higuaín’s worst performance for the selección (in a competitive game at least), I wouldn’t drop him after scoring a hat trick either. And nor is Maradona – he’s resting him for the last group game, but as we all know that’s hardly being ‘dropped’. I’m delighted Milito will get a chance to show what he can do though, and what’s more, alongside Messi!

  11. Thats your oipnion, which has never happened in a world cup and never will. A player scoring 8 goals in the opening 2 matches. 8 goals will more often than not win the golden boot. If you want to use that argument then Messi should have about 4 or 5 goals by now.
    I agree, Higuain should have scored a couple against Nigeria, but one poor game doesnt make him a bad finisher. Most players are bound to be nervous in their first ever world cup game, a strikers game is based on confidence, and to drop him following that game would have been wrong.
    I wasnt taking about Maradona resting him (didnt even realise that). My criticism is of others on here saying he should be dropped, even after scoring a hat trick. Dont get me wrong I think Milito is quality, he’d walk into any other national side, but I feel Higuain deserves his place.
    Ive watched him plenty of times for Real and, and this is just my opinion, but to me he has become an out and out goalscorer in the past few seasons. He can be anoymous for long periods, is a lot greedier than he used to be but give him a chance and generally hes pretty lethal! Hes a goalscorer, the stats back that up at club and international level.

    1. First of all, yes, it’s my opinion, and also that of the Argentine media. And I (and I suspect they, though it wouldn’t surprise me…) know that Batistuta wouldn’t actually have scored eight goals in the opening two matches. But you know what they mean. He’d have been more likely to get them on target. Batistuta was an out-and-out goalscorer. Higuaín is much more complete in his style at least (note: I’m not saying Higuaín is better than Batistuta was!), as indeed is Milito. Madrid aren’t using Higuaín as such, but I’ve not heard many people suggest they’ve been especially well-managed and made the best use of the players available to them recently.

      Also, I do like Higuaín, remember. I like him a lot. I just feel Milito finished the season in better form and deserved the first chance to have a go from the start, which is something Maradona’s consistently refused to give him (right wing for the last twenty minutes against Brazil? Right wing?!). But the fact we’re even having this discussion just shows what an embarrassment of riches Argentina have up front.

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