22 Juni 2010

Eight hopefuls eyeing four spots

Source : Fifa.com

The qualification equation will be resolved once and for all in groups A and B on Tuesday when, to ensure fairness between the teams in contention, the two games in each section will kick off at the same time.

Uruguay and Mexico currently lead the way in Group A with four points apiece and a draw between them in Rustenburg would send both through to the last 16. Neither will enjoy the thought of facing Argentina in the next round, however, and that ought to motivate both to pursue a victory that would allow either South Africa or France to take advantage, despite the latter duo having collected a solitary point each so far. Whatever happens, the tournament is about to lose at least one major participant, with the host nation having never fallen at this stage in past editions and crisis-stricken France runners-up just four years ago.

In Group B, Argentina stand on the verge of the knockout phase, even if they could still conceivably be eliminated on goal difference if they lose to Greece and three teams finish on six points. Realistically, Diego Maradona’s men possess a healthy grip on top spot, while Korea Republic appear favourites to grab second place behind them. A draw in their meeting with Nigeria would see the Asian side through, depending on the outcome of Greece’s match against the leaders.

The matches
Group A (both matches at 16.00 local time)
France-South Africa, Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Mexico-Uruguay, Rustenburg

Group B (both matches at 20.30 local time)
Greece-Argentina, Polokwane
Nigeria-Korea Republic, Durban

The big games
Nigeria-Korea Republic

Semi-finalists at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, Korea Republic control their own destiny despite having suffered a heavy 4-1 loss to Argentina last time out. They have since pored over their failings in that game and have singled out their defensive frailty, general clumsiness and the goal they conceded early on, all of which made it difficult for them to claw their way back. Almost constantly on the back foot, they nonetheless showed glimpses of the quality that brought them a 2-0 win over Greece, and against Nigeria they will be keen to prove that lessons have been learnt. As for their opponents, the Super Eagles have been beaten twice but can still reach the Round of 16. Lars Lagerback has opted not to criticise his young, inexperienced team to avoid demoralising them even further, and with so much youthful talent in their ranks anything is possible – even if they have gone seven games without victory on the global stage and suffered six defeats during that run.

Greece have lifted a veil of doubt after finally recording their first ever victory at a FIFA World Cup final tournament, a 2-1 comeback triumph against Nigeria that avenged their 2-0 loss to the Super Eagles at USA 1994. They must now complete the more taxing task of reversing the outcome of their defeat by Argentina on 21 June that same year in Boston, when Gabriel Batistuta helped himself to a hat-trick and a certain Maradona, then captain of La Albiceleste, added the other goal in a 4-0 romp. At least the European hopefuls will not have to contain El Pibe de Oro this time around – he will be pacing the technical area instead.

What they said
"There are better teams out there than us, but we’re convinced we can beat anyone,” Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay coach.


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