Argentina’s 4-1 victory over South Korea today was the team’s seventh win in a row, their best run of results since 1998, and gave signs that La Albiceleste might be peaking at just the right time. Where the win against Nigeria in Johannesburg last week showed brief glimpses of the undoubted quality Diego Maradona’s squad possesses, their performance this afternoon was one of far greater cohesion and balance.
Balance going forward
Gone was the individualism that was such a feature of last Saturday’s game, the team displaying a far greater endeavour to keep their shape and play with a much-improved collective ethos.
Having made just one change from the opening game – Maxi Rodriguez replacing the unfit Juan Sebastian Veron – Argentina persisted with their lopsided 4-1-3-1-1, with Jonas Gutierrez again deployed as an attacking right-back and Carlos Tevez as the right sided forward in what also resembled a 4-3-1-2 in the defensive phase.
In his role as the team’s “false 9”, Lionel Messi had another good game for his country, either running at the South Korean defence in his uniquely dangerous way, or sitting deep and linking up with Tevez and the lively Angel Di Maria. Indeed, the Benfica winger was at the heart of much of his team’s attacking play, causing Oh Beom-Seok serious problems with two of the four goals coming down his side.
Although Maradona’s team were more effective and in attack, there are still obviously some defensive issues to be ironed out. Martin Demichelis’ catastrophic error which led to the Korean goal was indicative of a slight lack of concentration that appeared to afflict the Argentinean back line at times.
Gutierrez, although of course not a natural right-back, also looked weak at times – as he did against Nigeria – and was perhaps not tested enough by the Koreans. The yellow card he picked up this afternoon, his second of the tournament, could ultimately turn out to be a blessing in disguise, with Maradona likely to play Nicolas Otamendi against Greece and give the back four improved balance.
La Albiceleste warming up?
This was by no means a perfect performance by the South Americans, but there were significant improvements on the display they gave against Nigeria in the opening game, the attacking unit looking far more ruthless and organised up against a South Korean side that was more than happy to sit deep with its 4-4-1-1 system.
There are clearly still worries over the ability of the defence to hold out against some of the tournament’s stronger teams as the competition progresses, and Maradona will need to make a big decision as to whether he sticks with Gutierrez at right-back or sacrifices width for solidity before the knock-out stages begin in just over a week’s time.
That said, the way in which Higuain and co picked apart the Koreans was hugely impressive and it looks like Argentina could be hitting their stride at the most opportune of moments.