Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Argentina and South Korea through from World Cup Group B as Nigeria rue their greatest miss and Greece park their bus

SO Greece, as the joke goes, slipped up. They parked their bus, double-deckered by all accounts, in front of their goal and let Argentina throw the lot at them in Polokwane.

On a night that will be remembered for Ayegbeni Yakubu’s unbelievable miss (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg_4GcYOD3A) in Nigeria’s 2-2 draw against South Korea, football has triumphed. Just.

The Koreans go through with Argentina, Nigeria restored their reputation, the gruesome Greeks failed. Their defensive dullness led to their demise. That’s the beauty of World Cup football when you get down to the sharp end.

That Argentina would top Group B was never in doubt. Their opening 1-0 win over Nigeria was okay given Diego Maradona’s team selection and tactics. Their 4-1 over South Korea saw real flashes of brilliance, to be expected given the talent they have at their disposal.

Demechelis’s 78th minute goal followed by Martin Palermo’s 36-year-old strike in the dying seconds, ensured a 2-0 win, the crazy coach toppling the bus. Dodgy Diego produced another dazzling dance of celebration. They could just go all the way.

While were two late goals in Durban, Polokwane offered far more excitement. Kala Uche nipped in to make it 1-0 after 41 minutes, but South Korea went ahead through Jungsoo and Chouyong (the first direct free-kick of the tournament with the Jabulani ball) before Everton striker Yakubu stepped up after his horrendous two-yard miss to bravely slot home from the penalty spot.

At 2-2 they needed a goal to go through, despite ending pointless after their opening two games. But a point was not enough for the Super Eagles. South Korea go through with Argentina.

Greece have spent the last three weeks camped in Durban’s luxurious Beverley Hills hotel – standard rooms start at £300-a-night even when they’re not hosting a World Cup – while their economically stricken nation tightens belts.

That they prepared in KwaZulu Natal – where winter is a concept rather than a reality – was always ridiculous. Given that they were playing all three Group B games at higher altitude or in colder climes, somebody somewhere cocked-up.

And tonight they did it again. Their unadventurous finale might have worked if they’d managed a goalless draw and Nigeria had beaten the courageous Koreans.

But no. Despite Yakubu’s blunder, the woodwork and a late miss from former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins, Nigeria could not conjure that win.

Pity that. Africa could have done with a surprise qualifier after hosts South Africa went so close earlier in the day. They beat France 2-1 but went out on goal difference to Mexico, beaten 1-0 by Group A winners Uruguay.

Neal Collins is in South Africa to complain about England's performance and promote his first novel A GAME APART. See www.nealcollins.co.uk.

To see Neal at the National Arts Festival on July 4, go to http://www.computicket.com/web/event/neal_collins_a_game_apart/148367625.

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