On paper, this group doesn’t look as tricky as some of the others, but it will be tough sleddin' to advance. And with Argentina’s recent form, Group B might be more of a headache for the Albicelestes than people might expect. South Korea, Greece, and Nigeria all have legitimate expectations to make it to the knockouts. In a group this evenly matched, it would not be a surprise at all if the fates of all four teams are decided with a 2nd half stoppage time goal on June 22.
June 12 – 7:30 AM EDT Korea Republic – Greece // Port Elizabeth
June 12 -- 10:00 AM EDT Argentina – Nigeria // Johannesburg
June 17 -- 7:30 AM EDT Argentina – Korea Republic // Johannesburg
June 17 – 10:00 AM EDT Greece – Nigeria // Bloemfontein
June 22 – 2:30 PM EDT Nigeria – Korea // Durban
June 22 – 2:30 PM EDT Greece – Argentina // Polokwane
World Cup Appearances: 14
Best Finish: Champions, 1978 and 1986
Coach: Diego Maradona
Mexico 86 was Maradona’s world cup, and it was his pass that sprung Jorge Burruchaga for the deciding goal vs. Germany at the Azteca.
Player to watch: There won’t be another player in the tournament that will be under as much pressure as Lionel Messi. A world cup victory would catapult “La Pulga” into the most exclusive of clubs. But if Argentina falters, he may not be considered an all-time great, merely the world’s best.
Most managers would kill to have Diego Maradona’s embarrassment of riches up front. In addition to Messi, Maradona has chosen Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, and Martin Palermo. Most Argentines will be ready to kill Diego Maradona if Argentina doesn’t itself well this summer. The Albicelestes should manage to reach at least the quarterfinals. Advancing beyond that usually requires magnificent pieces of individual skill. Messi, anyone?
“Argentina has the talent to be one of a handful of teams that have a legitimate chance to win the title. Maradona is not an idiot as some paint him out to be, he knows football, has good instincts, and is a good motivator. But he's stubborn and could very well be outcoached in a key match, because he's not particularly analytical or savvy in terms of strategy.”
World Cup Appearances: 4
Best Finish: Round of 16, 1994, 1998
Manager: Lars Lagerback (Sweden)
Nigeria have done well in the world cup and have scored some terrific goals, but none better than Sunday Oliseh’s thunderbolt that sent Spain reeling toward a first round exit in France 98.
Player to watch: Nigeria has seen its players perform very well for European clubs for many years. John Mikel Obi is one such player. Playing in a more offensive role than he does at Chelsea, Mikel will bring order to the Super Eagles and help them avoid the naïve, defensive pratfalls that have felled African teams in the past.
The Super Eagles are back in the world cup after missing out in 2006 (on goal differential to Angola). Nigeria is far from an unknown quantity, and they have a formidable pool of talent from which to pick. Lagerback has only been on board since late February, and has precious little time to find the right combination of players. But the former Sweden Manager has a terrific foundation of players in place: Joseph Yobo, Obafemi Martins, Obi, Nkwanko Kanu and goal-keeper Vincent Enyeama are all fine cornerstones. Only Argentina has more talent in this group.
Nigeria is tied with Cameroon as the African nations with most wins in World Cups despite playing in two tournaments less than the Indomitable Lions.
World Cup Appearances: 7
Best Finish: 4th place, 2002
Coach: Huh Jung-Moo
Playing in their first ever knock-out match at a world cup, the South Koreans eliminated none other than Italy with none other than a golden goal in Korea-Japan 2002.
Player to Watch: Teams will try and limit the effectiveness of Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung, so Lee Chung-Yong will have to exploit the vacated spaces when defenses roll to cover the other flank. The young Bolton winger has impressed in the EPL and has the technical abilities and vision to make opponents pay for being overly cautious with Park.
It’s not often that Korea plays a side that can match their fitness level. The Koreans will run all day long, and have great chemistry to boot. They are a disciplined, tactical side that rarely loses their shape. There are more and more Koreans appearing on European rosters, so Korea looks to be positioning itself for a World Cup breakthrough. They do have issues, though, when it comes to size, which makes them very vulnerable to set plays.
“Korea has many players with European experience who also have a very strong mentality. Their recent victory against Ivory Coast showed that Korea can beat even strong teams.”
World Cup Appearances: 2
Best Finish: First round, 1994
Manager: Otto Rehnagel (Germany)
Greece’s only other appearance was one to forget. So instead of rehashing that nightmare, why not let the Greeks enjoy their greatest achievement: winning Euro 2004.
Player to watch: Greece would not have qualified for their second World Cup without the goal scoring punch of Theofanis Gekas, who tallied the most goals in the UEFA qualifying zone. And the way Greece plays, goals are worth their weight in platinum.
The next goal Greece scores in South Africa will be their first World Cup goal. They were skunked in USA 1994 (-10 GD). It’s not the sexiest brand of soccer. It can be hard to watch. Nevertheless, Greece used it effectively to win Euro 2004, knocking off three stylish teams on their way to the title. The Greeks didn’t have the hardest qualifying group in Europe, but they scratched out a spot in the playoff with Ukraine, a 1-0 win on aggregate. "Our plan was to use counterattacks and one of those was enough to win us the game.” Rehnagel said. Expect much, much, much more of the same.
“Greece and Argentina will qualify from the group. After that I give 50/50 to Greece to pass to next round.”