19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
DAY 7 SCORES (THURSDAY/JUNE 17)
- Group B - Argentina 4, South Korea 1
- Group B - Greece 2, Nigeria 1
- Group A - Mexico 2, France 0
We are now into the second set of group games for each team, everyone feeling the pressure as the 32 nations all jockey for those crucial top-two positions in each group that symbolize advancement to the knockout round. Yesterday, we saw Uruguay effectively end the dreams of the host country as Diego Forlan's brace of goals paced the South Americans to a 3-0 victory that put them in the driver's seat in Group A. Barring a major miracle, this will be the first time in the tournament's 80-year history that the host has been eliminated in the group stage. Of course, if Mexico and France were to play another dour draw, it would afford the South Africans an outside shot. But just because the home side was in dire straits didn't mean the vuvuzelas blew any less enthusiastically on the seventh day of World Cup action.
I finally feel back on pace after a weekend that afforded little time for following the international spectacle. Waking up early before work, I was able to catch most of the second half of the Group B encounter between Argentina and South Korea. By that point, an own goal and the first by Gonzalo Higuain had put the favorites in the lead, and an injury-time goal by Lee Chung-Yong had pulled the Asian side within one.
The second half yielded nothing but heartbreak for the Koreans. Yeom Ki-Hun missed a sure chance to equalize when he wrong-footed himself early in the second half and put his clear shot into the side netting. Twenty minutes later, Higuain would double the lead with his second goal of the match, a juicy rebound delivered to his feet after Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero were denied. Higuain would complete his hat trick four minutes later -- the first three-goal game since the 2002 World Cup in... South Korea (and Japan).
And the way he did it... oh, the way that play built up, the brilliance of Messi and Aguero and Higuain, all working together deftly to split apart the Korean backfield and slice their way through for that last perfect flick by supersub Aguero right onto the noggin of the three-goal wonder. In completing his treble of scores, Higuain put his name alongside Gabriel Batistuta, the last Argentine to register a hat trick in World Cup play when he did it in France in 1998. So South Korea would keep a wary eye on Nigeria-Greece, hoping to stay in contention after the loss...
By the time I was able to think about that match, though, I was punched in at work and following on my phone. Lo and behold, though; as I sat down on my first break to eat a banana, drink another cup of coffee and check my mail and the scores along with a cigarette, what should I receive but a message from David... the last person I would've expected to talk soccer with me. But there it was, clear as day:
Grecian hit with at least a yellow for acting? And another for acting like he was throwing the ball? Don't the refs have to stop crap like this?
Wow... the guy who takes every opportunity to ridicule soccer players had finally found one to defend. So I had to send off a response to him:
You are right there. That was a ticky-tack foul that should probably
just have resulted in yellow cards for both players. It sucks that
Nigeria had to lose that way. Ultimately, though, is it any different
than a wide receiver selling a bogus pass-interference call? This just
happened to be on a much bigger stage, and with greater consequences.
Sometimes things shake out like that... it sucks, but it is what it
Mind you, by this point I had seen the replay twice and was already mulling over it. Sometimes all it takes is being the right type of salesman to get through to the refs. Does it suck? Yeah. But it happens in sports all the time. David, though, wanted to continue:
I think that's right on the ref there, you can't nail a red card on that level for something like that. I can see the yellow on the Nigerian player for the action -- but a red for little to no contact? On this stage?
And then we concluded the subject. For some reason, David never responded after this last message... I could have gone all day:
It definitely falls on the referee there. At this level, prudence is
of the greatest necessity. Both players were in the wrong -- but in
the end the disparity in punishment between the two was at the least
puzzling. I wouldn't be surprised if FIFA kept this guy from
officiating after the group stage... if not sooner.
Up until that point, Nigeria had the momentum fully on their side.
What happened was ultimately really similar to the 1998. quarterfinal
between Argentina and England, when David Beckham and Juan Sebastian
Veron got tangled up. Beckham took a weak kick at Veron and was sent
off. So there's precedent there for this move, at least. It doesn't
make it right, but it does at least explain the rationale in the heat
of the moment...
It's true. Players get sent off sometimes for phantom fouls that were really quite innocuous in retrospect but which look legitimate in the run of action. The referee has no replay to look at like we all do at home, on our computers or phones or even as someone there in person with the luxury to glance at the scoreboard. A referee is forced to run around just as much as the players for 90+ minutes, staying in position to see the main action while staying out of the way and keeping an eye on the periphery as well. Sometimes things get glanced in a weird way, and penalties get sold correctly so as to draw things for your team's benefit. Was it wrong in retrospect? Well, it cost Nigeria the match, so it certainly is rough to realize it was probably an overreaction. But in the first glimpse of the footage, if you don't know what you're seeing, it could certainly be construed as an intent to intimidate or injure. After all, it wasn't as though Kaita wasn't immediately remorseful as he realized what he had done. He knew he'd done something out of line. I personally don't think it was red-card levels of out of line, but the precedent is there... players can't be spiking others -- or even threatening to lash out -- with their cleats every time something goes the wrong way, after all. It is a tough example, but Kaita set it for all of us in what was a sad ouster from the tournament for him...
And then there was France. Once again a flop, Les Bleus managed absolutely nothing against the Mexican squad as they vied for primacy in Group A in the showcase match of the day. With Uruguay steady on four points from yesterday's win, Mexico set things up with their 2-0 win today so that their final showdown with the South Americans on June 22 will be for the top seed in the group. A weird set of tiebreakers would, in the event of a draw, see Uruguay advance through on goal differential no matter the score, with Mexico in second. A loss for either team theoretically allows a France-South Africa winner the ability to still claw in with a blowout victory and a close loss on either direction in the other match to advance. In other words, Mexico and Uruguay is likely going to settle the score -- especially since I don't think France can beat South Africa, and I don't think South Africa can beat France.
The Mexicans showed determination with their victory. The halftime score, as I checked on my phone at lunch, was nil-nil. As I ate a salad and a sandwich, I read through a few others' thoughts on the early matches, wrote down a few notes of my own and refreshed the matchcast on the late match every now and then. In the 55th minute, right midfielder Efrain Juarez came out of the match for young Javier Hernandez. Recently signed from Guadalajara by English powerhouse Manchester United, Hernandez showed within his first ten minutes on the pitch why he was coveted so dearly by the Red Devils. Working in consort with Rafael Marquez, taking his long flick and staying just onside to receive the pass, all Hernandez had to do was side-step French keeper Hugo Lloris and tap the ball into the net for the lead.
Parched Irish gullets were hydrated across the globe as Mexico took the advantage. Domenech's side neverl looked like getting back into the match after that. Cuauhtemoc Blanco's penalty kick conversion in the 79th minute sealed the victory, and the second goal will undoubtedly help in any question of differential -- except where Uruguay is concerned. That could be the nail in their own coffin that would relegate them to a Round of 16 showdown with Argentina...