Playing like a World Cup champ, Argentina trounces South Korea 4-1

Gonzalo Higuaín scored three goals alone, lifting Argentina over South Korea and showing that they are serious contenders in the South Africa World Cup.

Roger Parker/Fotosports International/Newscom
Gonzalo Higuain(r) of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's third goal against South Korea on Thursday in World Cup play.

As Spain falters and Brazil stutters, Argentina grows in stature.

The Argentines haven’t won the World Cup since 1986 and their qualifying campaign bordered on shambolic. But they are beginning to look like real challengers this time around.

With forward Lionel Messi always dangerous, striker Gonzalo Higuaín in the right place at the right time, and substitutes of the caliber of Sergio Agüero, Argentina demolished South Korea 4-1 with a performance that was far from perfect but still as dominant as any seen so far in this tournament.

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Coach Diego Maradona’s team took the game to their opponents straight from the kick off, just as they did in their opening match against Nigeria. And just as four days ago, they were rewarded with an early goal.

The 16th minute opener was a fortunate one: a Messi free kick hitting the shin of Chu Yung and wrong footing the Korean keeper. A second goal was not long in coming, though, and like Argentina’s previous two goals in the tournament it came from a set piece. This time a Messi free kick from the right was flicked on to Higuain who headed it home; it was his first of three stunning goals in one game.

However, Argentina’s Achilles heel is its plodding and clumsy defense and that frailty was exposed with the last move of the first half. Martin Demichelis dithered inexcusably and was robbed of possession by Lee Chung-Yong, who strode into the box to slot the ball past keeper Sergio Romero.

Korea looked more dangerous in the second half but they couldn’t convert that confidence into goals. Argentina wrapped up the game in the 76th minute thanks to a great move inspired by Agüero and ended by Higuain.

Agüero played a one-two with Messi and although the Barcelona star’s first shot was saved, his second hit the post and rebounded to Higuain who was left with the simplest task of prodding the ball into the empty net. The icing on the cake came just three minutes later when the same three players combined in a counter attack for Higuain to nod home a fourth.

Argentina is now undefeated after two matches. Fellow top-ranked team Spain, meanwhile, has lost one match and Brazil looked weak in its 2-1 win over little North Korea.

Questions still exist about Argentina’s resolve and they remain to be tested. But Coach Maradona will be delighted with what he has seen so far. And few coaches can say that during the first week of this World Cup.

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