Argentina – Greece Preview

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                The first round of the 2010 World Cup is on its heels, the curtains are starting to close, and comedies and tragedies alike have been revealed.  In a few hours, the Greek team takes on Argentina, are here’s everything you need to know for the matchup.

                Greece, who tasted defeat in their opening game with South Korea, were able to rally a 2-1 win against Nigeria the second time around and keep the prospect of continuing to the second round open-ended.  But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to win another: the obvious is that Argentina have shown themselves a soccer powerhouse this tournament, nearly invincible, as much as its going to be a players’ game, it’s also going to be one for the coaches too.  That means the World Cup’s oldest coach, Otto Rehhagel, takes on the dramatic Diego Maradona.

                If the latter looks the clear winner, let’s not forget that Rehhagel has made a name for himself by inspiring unlikely upsets and victories, and has been called a miracle man by many:  one can cite two words: Euro 2004.  But therein lies one coaching difference: Rehhagel is forced to go into this game seeking an all-star performance from his squad, he has to be the miracle man, whereas Maradona can simple say something like: “give it to me again, boys.”

                From a strictly player perspective, it doesn’t look good for Greece.  Argentina has found their stride.  Theofanis Gekas and Salpingidis don’t seem to be a match for Messi and co., the former being the divine playmaker on the field and measuring up to every possible indicator and more (aside from unfair fans wishing he had some goals), inspiring excellence against Nigeria and South Korea.  One need not forget about Higuain also, who got the goods of several plays last game and was thereby able to lob three plays into the net.

                Argentina needs only a draw to secure itself into the next round.

                And indeed Greek coach Rehhagel seems to have recognized all of this, when he recently said at a press conference: “Argentina are world-class, they’re clearly better than us.  We still have a chance, but it’ll be very hard.   We’re the underdogs [against Argentina], that’s for sure, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

                The matchup to watch for is Dimitrios Salpingidis v Gabriel Heinze.  It was the former who set up Greece’s goal against Nigeria and he can be extremely menacing floating out of the wing, where he’ll no doubt look to exploit Jonas Guttierez’s lack of defence and Heinze’s lack of pace.  The doubt on the Argentine side of the field is not directed towards the offence, but the defence, which has yet to measure up as classically as their offensive counterparts.  Heinze in particular seems to be prone to lapses of concentration that will have to be managed in the name of success.

                Predictions are taking the shape of the following: Greece has proven their ability to keep low scoring games in their favour; but the desire to open up on this particular occasion will open the up for just the kind of exposé the Argentine team have shown they can exploit. 

                It surfaced recently that Diego Maradona petitioned earlier for “fair play” at this year’s Cup, ironic giving his famous ‘hand of god’ a decade ago.  He has also stated that he will not sit Messi for the sake of rest against Greece, laughing that such would be “a sin” to deprive the public of seeing the best player on the planet.  Messi played all 90 minutes for Argentina’s two previous matches.

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