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FIFA World Cup: Argentina coast into Knock-out round with 2-0 win over Greece

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diego_maradona.jpgArgentina sealed top place in their group following a hard fought 2-0 victory against a deeply defensive Greek side at the FIFA World Cup in Polokwane. Late second half goals from Martin Demichelis and substitute Martin Palermo in a much changed Argentina side consigned the Greeks to defeat and an early exit following South Korea's vital point against Nigeria which secured second place for the Asian side. The Greeks were desperately dour hoping events in the Nigeria and South Korea match would seal their berth into the second round. Maradona's Argentina now face Mexico in the last 16 while South Korea take on Uruguay.

The situation before the games in Group B kicked off were simple enough. Greece knew they could progress if they produced a better result than South Korea did on the night. Argentina meanwhile had one foot in the knock-out rounds of the World Cup, and the only thing that could stop them from making it two was if they pressed the self destruct button.

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel made two changes to his team with defender Vangelis Moras and striker Georgios Samaras replacing Fanis Gekas and Dimitris Salpingidis. The 2004 European champions packed the midfield looking to grind out a result, with the Celtic man Samaras all alone up front.

Meanwhile, Argentina coach Diego Maradona put out practically a brand new team for this game, making as many as seven changes to the side that beat South Korea 4-1. Strikers Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain made way for Champions League winner Diego Milito and Maradona's son-in-law Sergio "Kun" Aguero, with Lionel Messi giventhe captain's armband in Javier Mascherano's absence.

The game kicked off with both sides playing ordinary football, as despite plenty of possession for the South Americans their passing and flow seemed to have been disrupted by the many changes made by Maradona. The complexion of the group changed positively for the Greeks following Nigeria taking the lead against South Korea on 11 minutes in their encounter. As things stood the Greeks were now in second place, but surely there were to be many more twists and turns before the night was out.

The first chance of the game did not come until the 18th minute when Aguero went on a mazy run before firing in a left-footed snapshot that keeper Alexandros Tzorvas saved. Moments later, Juan Sebastian Veron launched a thunderbolt from distance forcing Tzorvas into another save. The Greeks were working hard enough but were keeping plenty of men behind the ball and as a result were not seeing any possession as the Argentines controlled the game without fashioning any further immediate chances. For the neutrals the Greeks are never a popular side as they rarely ever look to win a game from the off preferring to wear the opposition down and in Argentina they had a side that could leave the back door open to a deadly counter attack.

Argentina without Tevez and Mascherano looked disjointed and did not enjoy the attacking threat they did in their first two games, but that was also perhaps accentuated by the disclipined European side who seemed to never lose their rigid shape. The tide of the group changed once more when South Korea equalised against the Nigerians which meant they were now the side in second place. On the stroke of half time the Greeks were thankful to keeper Tzorvas who kept their side from going behind following good saves from Maxi Rodriguez and Messi. As the teams walked off at the breaks the Greeks would have now realised that as things stood they were now going home early. The question was whether coach Rehhagel was happy to keep things as they were and hope Nigeria would do his side a favour or take the bull by the horns and at least try and push for some semblance of a victory.

The second half kicked off with the Greeks happy to stick with their current lot and their defensive outlook nearly brought about the first goal. A defensive error by Argentina saw Samaras through on goal, and despite two bites of the cherry, the Celtic man failed to make the most of his opportunity.

That miss would have hit boss Rehhagel even harder when news filtered through that the South Koreans had taken the lead in Polokwane. But did the Greeks try going for broke and pushing for victory? No they did not, as the game descended into one of the dullest of the tournament so far with attack playing defence. Goal scoring opportunities were at an absolute premium until Sotiris Kyriako's grabbed a handful of Diego Milito's shirt inside the Greece area, but the Inter Milan striker's penalty claims were waved away. It felt like a training session with only one team having the hunger to at least attempt an attack. But the Greeks did not care, even though when Nigeria equalised, it meant that with 15 minutes to go, Greece were back in the hunt.

But fortune at last favoured the brave and Argentina finally killed the defensive resolve of the Greeks. Martin Demichelis reacted well from a corner to thump a loose ball into the roof of the net leaving Maradona running along the touchline with unbridled joy. Messi should have finally opened his first World Cup account but he appears to have been cursed with bad luck in this tournament as he struck a post following a lovely 1-2 on the edge of the area. But the South Americans did not have to wait long for their second with again Messi being the architect as he forced a save from Tzorvas which allowed substitute Martin Palermo to finish home with a minute left on the clock. The goal sealed Argentina's place in the second round with a perfect record in the group stages of the FIFA World Cup, while the Greeks went home with few neutrals crying for their early exit.

The Teams:

Greece: Alexandros Tzorvas; Loukas Vyntra, Vangelis Moras, Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Vassilis Torosidis , (Patsatzoglou, 55') Alexandros Tziolis, Avraam Papadopoulos, Socratis Papastathopoulos, Giorgos Samaras, Giorgos Karagounis (Spyropoulos' 46) Kostas Katsouranis (Ninis, 54')

Argentina: Sergio Romero, Martin Demichelis, Clemente Rodriguez, Nicolas Burdisso, Mario Bolatti, Juan Sebastian Veron, Maxi Rodriguez (Di Maria, 63) , Nicolas Otamendi, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero , (Pastore, 77) Diego Milito.

Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)

Scoreline: Argentina 2 Greece 0 (Demichelis 77, Palermo 89)

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

South Korea 2-2 Nigeria - Match Report

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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