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FIFA World Cup: Higuain hat-trick virtually seals Argentina's place in the 2nd round

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argentina_south_korea.jpgGonzalo Higuain scored a hat-trick as Argentina thrashed South Korea 4-1 in the FIFA World Cup to virtually book their place in the second round with a commanding performance at Johannesburg's Soccer City. Argentina destroyed the South Koreans with an attacking performance full of speed, movement and vigour with Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez simply too hot to handle. They opened their account with a fortunate own goal when Park Chu-young bundled home Messi's free kick on 16 minutes before Argentina doubled their lead after Higuain scored his first following more sloppy defending. The South Americans did show their vulnerability at the back as an error from Bayern Munich defender Martin Demichelis allowed Lee Chung Yong to narrow the deficit just before half time. But Argentina were just as impressive after the break and hammered home their advantage with the Real Madrid striker scoring twice more to take himself to the top of the tournament's goal scoring charts and his side surely through to the second round.

Coach Maradona made one change from the team that beat Nigeria with midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, who was left on the bench to protect a calf injury, making way for Liverpool's Maxi Rodriguez. Maradona therefore resisted giving Treble winner Diego Milito a start despite impressing as a substitute against the Africans. In that game the front three of Lionel Messi, Carols Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain created a plethora of chances but failed to take any, with Messi in particular being in sparkling form and was unlucky not to have opened his account.

South Korea too made just one change from the team that beat Greece 2-0, with Oh Beom-seok coming in for Cha Du-ri at right-back. Manager Huh Jung Moo went with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Monaco forward Park Chu-Young, a sprightly presence against Greece and with a sizeable reputation to uphold. As one of South Korea's leading players, much was expected of the 24-year-old and fans were hoping he could cause some problems for Argentina's vulnerable defence. Going into this game the South Koreans were undefeated in 19 games.

argentine_fans.jpgAs they were against Nigeria, Argentina and Messi in particular were quickly out the blocks earning a corner within the first minute following a jinking, darting run. The South Americans were controlling possession well with South Korea hardly seeing the ball, but it was clear that they seemed to be happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. Messi was being closely followed as always but Yeom Ki-hun took things too far after he manhandled the Barcelona star to the ground and earned himself the game's first yellow card on 10 minutes. The deadlock was broken in bizarre circumstances after Messi's excellent free kick flew in off the shin of Park Chu-young from six yards out past a helpless Jung Sung-ryong to gift Argentina the lead. South Korea almost replied instantaneously, but Ki Sung Yueng's powerful drive from distance failed to test Sergio Romero in the Argentine goal.

The only problem for Maradona to deal with in the first 20 minutes was an injury to centre half Walter Samuel who was forced off with what looked like a hamstring problem and he was replaced by Nicolas Burdisso. Tevez was once again in the action after his fiercely struck 27th minute free kick from 30 yards out flew just over the crossbar. Messi and Tevez were combining well and causing the South Koreans all kinds of problems. The Asian team were struggling to pick up the movement of the current world player of the year and the Manchester City striker as Argentina looked dangerous every time they attacked. Their second goal, which their good approach fully deserved, came on 33 minutes after more dreadful defending from the South Koreans allowed an unmarked Higuain to head home from six yards. The Real Madrid man scored his first goal of the World Cup from an excellent cross from Maxi Rodriguez to leave Argentina very comfortable. Keeper Jung Sung-ryong saved his team going three down with an excellent block from Di Maria's stinging shot as the South Americans were in absolute control. Messi and Tevez were simply irrepressible as more lovely combination work on the edge of the area led to a delightful chip from Messi, after he had first dribbled past two, but the effort went agonisingly wide. Then with virtually the last kick of the half South Korea were incredibly back into this match. A dreadful blunder by Martin Demichelis on the edge of the area allowed Lee Chung Yong to nip in and score. The Bayern Munich man dallied for far too long before the South Korean stole the ball off him and coolly slotted past Sergio Romero to give South Korea hope when in all honestly they should have been dead and buried.

argentina_celebrate.jpgJust six minutes into the second half and Argentina should have restored their two goal lead after more good work from Messi linking well this time with Di Maria who found Higuain six yards out, but his shot was well saved by Jung Sung-ryong. Tevez was having a wonderful game and for the umpteenth time in this match darted in from the left wing before lashing a shot which again Jung Sung-ryong did well to parry. But amazingly the South Americans, who were creating chances aplenty could have conceded a second goal which on the balance of play South Korea hardly warranted. Yeom Ki-hun was played through on goal by Lee Chung-Yong, but the 27-year old Suwon midfielder failed to test the keeper finding the side-netting instead.

South Korea were playing much better football in the second half, no longer intimidated by the big name players on the other side of the pitch. But the chances were still coming for the South Americans as Higuain was once again thwarted by the excellent Jung Sung-ryong with a more routine save from an 18 yard shot. Maradona rang the changes on 75 minutes with Sergio Aguero coming on for Carlos Tevez and this move brought immediate dividends. Once again it was Messi who was at the heart of the move with a quick one two with Aguero before launching a run into the penalty area. He shot but once again the keeper pulled off another save. The ball found its way back to Messi, and his second effort ricocheted off the post and straight to Higuain, who tapped the ball in from 2 yards out.

The goal seemed to kill off the South Koreans and with confidence surging through the veins of the Argentine players they scored a deserved fourth. More excellent approach player from Messi, whose defence splitting chip found Aguero, who in turn crossed from the left side to an unmarked Higuain to seal a comprehensive victory with his hat-trick. The impressive Aguero could have scored a brilliant fifth goal with a slalom run in injury time but his shot went just wide.

For Argentina there will be surely be stronger tests to come but Maradona should be proud of his team as many feared disaster when he took over. His side still look vulnerable at the back and against better sides one fears they might be picked off, but on the flip side no team, with the possible exception of Germany, have looked so thrilling in attack with the likes of Tevez, Messi, Higuain and also Aguero combining so well. They face Greece on Tuesday looking to seal first place in the group.

South Korea will have to lick their wounds from this game but they know that a win from their final game against Nigeria on Tuesday 22nd June should book their place in the second round. Manager Huh Jung Moo would have taken three points after the first two matches although the manner of this defeat will surely hurt. They will have to defend better though as they were cut to ribbons by the pacy forwards of Argentina.

The Teams :

Argentina: Sergio Romero (GK), Demichelis, Samuel (Burdisso 23'), Heinze, Gutierrez, Mascherano, Rodriguez, Di Maria, Messi, Tevez (Aguero 75'), Higuain (Bolatti 82')

South Korea: Jung Sung-ryong, Oh Beom-seok, Lee Young-pyo, Cho Yong-hyung, Lee Jung-soo, Kim Jung-woo, Ki Sung Yueng (Kim Nam-Il, 46'), Park Ji-sung, Lee Chung-yong, Park Chu-young (Lee Dong Gook 81'), Yeom Ki-hun.

Scoreline: Argentina 4 - 1 South Korea

Argentina: Park Chu-Young (og) 16', Higuain 33', 76', 80' South Korea: Lee Chung-Yong 45'

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Greece 2 - 1 Nigeria (Match Report)

Argentina Team Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

Fan Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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