Messi was pulling the strings today, eh? With the South Koreans mounting multiple confidence-building challenges in the second half, it was Messi who squashed the upset. At 2-1 in the 77th, he slalomed into the box and fired at a sharp angle from the left. South Korean GK Jung Sung-ryong made a brilliant kick-save, but it fell right back at Messi’s feet. He fired again, and this time it bounced off the post and into the feet of Higuan (who was a touch offside) about a yard from the sticks. He slotted it home.
A few minutes later, Messi floated a tall ball over a wall of South Korean defenders to sub Sergio Aguero, who did his best to copy the move as he floated it across to Higuain on the right for a confident header, a hat trick, and a 4-1 finish.
Higuain’s first goal was also the result of great passing, coming off the head of Maxi Rodriguez to the head of Walter Samuel replacement Nicolas Burdisso, who sent it to Higuan’s dome for what seemed at the time a suffocating 2-0 lead.
Strikers are on the field to finish, and Higuain did that today. You won’t find many people collecting hat tricks in the World Cup who don’t deserve them, and I am not here to suggest Higuain is a fraud. But it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of players in the world who would love to spend their club days with Kaka, Alonso, and Ronaldo (okay maybe not Ronaldo) and then suit up for country with Messi, Tevez, and Aguero. Higuain puts himself in the right place to benefit from the creativity of others; that’s his job. But he also left a lot on the table today, enough that I’m wondering how much better than “pretty good” he really is. There were whiffed (and unnecessary) bicycles, unmarked shots skied high, and a feeling that, unless he was point-blank, you weren’t gonna get much out of him. Again, he’s a very fine striker. But I wouldn’t even call him the man of this match; that was Messi. Messi not only created most of Higuain’s chances, he drew so much attention with his moves forward that he even created the space for Higuain to operate.
One piece of advice for the hobbit-esque Maradona: when you get a 2 (much less a 3) goal lead late, rest the best, most energetic player in the world, mmmmmkay? Not only does he need to conserve energy, some teams won’t be as gentlemanly as South Korea was and Messi could become a target.
Speaking of South Korea, they put in a very good effort today, certainly better than the scoreline showed. There were at least 2 great chances to tie it, one when striker Yeom Ki-hun rumbled forward with the ball and pulled Romero toward him. A shot across the face might’ve gone in, but Ki-hun went for a same-side shot and fired into the side-netting. Later, Argentina’s keeper Romero came out for a ball and misjudged it. The South Koreans nearly beat him to the spot, and if they had, it would’ve been an open goal for the equalizer.
There was a bad own-goal to open play, but the biggest gaffe of the game belonged to Argentina CB Martin Demichelis. Seconds before half, he turned his back with the ball and South Korea’s Park Chung-yong swiped it from his feet and shot his team back into the game. This came on the heels of the injury to Walter Samuel, Argentina’s rock at the back. A brutal mistake, a crucial injury… and now Maradona’s decision to exclude Inter Milan defender and captain Javier Zanetti looks even more foolish. But thou shalt not question the Ego of God, especially after a 4-1 win.