by Joe Schwartz
It’s day seven of the World Cup, and we’ve now seen all 32 teams. Let’s see them all again, but better this time. Following a tentative, low scoring opening round of games in which on South Korea, Germany,
Group B: Argentina v. South Korea, 7:30 a.m. ESPN
Each team won its first match easily, Argentina riding an early Gabriel Heinze headed corner to victory against Nigeria and South Korea dismantling an old, disorganized Greek team. Expect an exciting match, with each country eager to top the group.
Responding to criticism of his managerial style, Argentina boss Diego Maradona told Pele that he belongs in a museum earlier this week, and he will be keen to make a statement here. His team is a group of stars determined to outscore the opponent with grace and style, but not with defense. The team doesn’t deploy full backs, instead calling on wingers to track back if, for some unlikely reason, the other team gets hold of the ball.
South Korea, meanwhile, appears to have rediscovered the form that brought the team to the semifinals in 2002. The team plays crisp, sound soccer and could pose problems to a star-laded, ego-inflated Argentina team.
Players to watch:
Lionel Messi, Argentina: Excuse me for going with the obvious choice here, but they call him the Messiah for a reason. Messi could of easily scored a hat trick against Nigeria were it not for the heroics of Vincent Enyeama. South Korea will have to try to detach the ball from his foot.
Ji-Sung Park, South Korea: The first Asian to play for Manchester United now is the first South Korean to score in three World Cups, having netted the second goal in the Greek game. His experience will be vital if South Korea is to stand toe to toe with Argentina.
Prediction: 2-1 Argentina
Group B: Greece v. Nigeria, 10 a.m. ESPN
Both teams need a win if they still have hopes of advancing. Greece is hoping to harken back to 2004, when they shocked a continent by winning the UEFA European Football Championship. They will need to move the ball faster, and not give it away in their own half if they want to survive against a talented Nigerian team. Nigeria is hoping to join Ghana as the only African teams to win a game in this tournament so far. The team played far too tentatively against Argentina, and will have to take more risks to have success here.
Players to watch:
Theofanis Gekas, Greece: Who scored the most goals in European qualifying for this tournament? Wayne Rooney? David Villa? Nope, this guy. Outpacing more expensive and better known players, Gekas’s 10 goals showed a true nack for the net. The Greeks will need him to find it in this one.
Joseph Yobo, Nigeria: The Everton defender highlights a team full of players with top flight European experience. He captains the Super Eagles and organizes the defense. Yobo needs to sort out the gaping holes that lead to Messi’s shooting spree in the last match.
Prediction: 2-0 Nigeria
Group A: Mexico v France, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
We’re going out of alphabetical order for the first time for a marquee contest between two soccer-loving nations. Mexico did well to score a second half goal and earn a draw against South Africa in the tournament’s opening match, overcoming the passion (and vuvuzellas) of the host fans. France, meanwhile, played a listless draw against Uruguay, which now tops the group. It’s time for each team to go for broke. Mexico needs the points before moving on to face a revitalized Uruguayan team. France can’t count on five points to get through, and they need to show some sort of goalscoaring threat to advance.
Players to watch:
Rafeal Marquez, Mexico: The Barcelona defender is playing in a holding midfield role for Mexico. He scored Mexico’s goal in the last match, neatly trapping and tucking home a cross. His international and big game experience will be key as Mexico looks to build around youngsters Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos up top.
Nicolas Anelka, France: The Chelsea man needs to prove he can be a threat as a lone striker and prove the mercurial Raymond Domenech correct for leaving Karim Benzema, once thought to the be future of this team, back in France.
Prediction: 1-0 Mexico
Joe remembers watching his first World Cup in 1994 when Roberto Baggio's penalty kick sailed atop the goal. He recalls the crew at the pizza place tossing their dough in disgust. He follows European soccer and the Carolina RailHawks.