The real World Cup is upon us. After the phoney war of the opening games, the goals are flying thick and fast as the second round demands blood, guts... and victories.
For Greece and Nigeria, the Group B warning had already been fired in emphatic fashion by Argentina on day seven of the World Cup. The Argies beat South Korea 4-1 in South Africa 2010’s first five-goal showdown. Then the Greeks edged out the 10-man Super Eagles 2-1 to the din of smashing plates across the world.
But they’d best not celebrate too soon - all four sides can still qualify from Group B.
A surprisingly big turn-out of 31,593 in chilly Bloemfontein saw Nigeria, with huge migrant support here, opened the scoring through Kalu Uche, whose free-kick wormed it’s way through a busy box and into the net after just 16 minutes.
But Greece – also blessed with a huge ex-pat community in South Africa – didn’t collapse as they did against South Korea in their opening game. Their cause was helped by Sani Kaita’s needless red card after 33 minutes for kicking out at Vassilis Torosidis. Stupid. Referee Oscar Ruiz was left with no option.
The Greeks relished playing ten men. First Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras had his effort cleared off the line by Haruna Lukman then, with the first half nearly done, Dimitris Salpingidis fired home – but only after a huge deflection off the luckless Lukman.
And the winner came as an embarrassment to the excellent Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. After a series of stunning saves he could only palm out Alexandros Tzioli’s shot and there was Torosidis to finish and send Greece into raptures.
Poor old Enyeama, brilliant in the 1-0 defeat against Argentina, simply held his head. That Jabulani ball has plenty more to offer as the World Cup hits top gear. We saw just 25 goals in the 16 first round matches – a record low – but there have been 11 in the three second round games so far.
Interestingly though, the Nigerians are still in it, despite ending pointless after two games. Thanks to Enyeama restricting the Argentines to one goal at Ellis Park, a win by more than two goals against South Korea in Durban on June 22 could put them through as runners up. But that’s assuming Argentina could be bothered to beat Greece on the same day in Polokwane.
Diego Maradona’s men crushed South Korea 4-1 in the highest-scoring encounter of the tournament so far in the early kick-off in front of a throbbing Soccer City. And of course, the Koreans beaten Greece in their opening game, while Nigeria lost to the Argies.
Gonazalo Higuain was the hero of the hour – and takes his place at the top of the scorers’ list with a hat-trick against the men from Seoul.
Born in Brest, France, the 22-year-old chose to play for his father’s Albiceleste when Les Bleus tried to get him to fly the Tricolour. And before this game, the Real Madrid striker was quoted as saying: “I’m sure the goals will come.”
El Pipita did just that. After Park Cho Yung’s opening own goal for Argentina, Higuain headed his side into what looked a comfortable lead after 32 minutes. Korea pulled one back just before the break when a defensive error – which could be an otherwise impressive outfit’s Achilles heel – let Lee Chong Yong in.
But Higuain had soon restored the two-goal cushion, finishing easily after Lionel Messi had hit a post – and he completed his hat-trick and the World Cup’s best scoreline so far with Sergio Aguero, Diego Maradona’s brother-in-law, setting up the goal.
All inspired, of course, by the little genius who is Messi. And the equally tiny coach Maradona, who was leaping about on the sidelines.
Argentina have all but won this group. But the battle for second will rage on.
Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter) is in South Africa to promote his first novel A GAME APART. For more information see www.nealcollins.co.uk. If you think the Scottish bagpipes should be banned rather than the Vuvuzela, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1hrMRk5FnY.