Group B stirs ghosts of '94
The Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ has pitted two-time winners Argentina against Nigeria, Korea Republic and Greece in Group B. It is a section that stirs memories of the 1994 finals in the United States – and one that appears, on paper at least, to be difficult to predict.
Argentina: Despite their inconsistent showing in South American qualifying, the potential of Diego Maradona's squad remains vast given the plethora of world-class talents at his disposal. The greatest challenge for this relatively inexperienced coach will be knitting these proven individuals into a cohesive and reliable unit, something he has been unable to do thus far. That said, La Albiceleste's big names and status as former winners make them favourites to top the section.
Nigeria: Though lacking as many household names as in previous FIFA World Cup outings, coach Shaibu Amodu can call on a balanced squad made up of experienced performers and up-and-coming starlets. Having shown they were made of stern stuff in African Zone qualifying, when snatching a berth from Tunisia's hands in the final round of matches, the Super Eagles will feel confident of competing for a last-16 berth, the furthest they have gone at a finals to date.
Korea Republic: Under the steady guidance of coach Huh Jung-Moo, the South Koreans were less than imperious during the qualifying phase, though they did end up topping their group in the final round. Clinching a ticket to South Africa means they will become the Asian team with most appearances at the global showpiece, though doubts remain over their ability to transfer their regional dominance on to the biggest stage of all. With their experience and all-action style they could make a serious challenge for a top-two place, though a repeat of their run to the 2002 semi-finals would appear beyond them.
Greece: The archetypal 'hard nut to crack' under Otto Rehhagel, the 2004 European champions return to world football’s top table for the first time since their debut in 1994. Solid at the back and clinical up front, King Otto's well-drilled charges will be determined to avoid a repeat of that American adventure, which brought three straight defeats. What is more, confidence should be high in the Greek camp after they edged out 2006 quarter-finalists Ukraine in the European Zone play-offs.
The players to watch
Lionel Messi (ARG), Javier Mascherano (ARG), Carlos Tevez (ARG), Juan Veron (ARG), Park Ji-Sung (KOR), Park Chu-Young (KOR), Obafemi Martins (NIG), Aiyegbeni Yakubu (NIG), Georgios Karagounis (GRE) and Theofanis Gekas (GRE).
The crunch match
Argentina-Nigeria: Both these big-name sides only clinched their tickets to South Africa with wins in their final qualifiers and their meeting in Group B's opening encounter could well shape their respective fates. History is currently on the side of the Argentinians, who won both previous group meetings between the two nations at FIFA World Cup finals: 2-1 at USA 1994 and 1-0 at Korea/Japan 2002.
A look back
Greece-Nigeria, 30 June 1994
In the countries' final Group D match at USA '94, goals from Finidi George and Daniel Amokachi earned Nigeria a 2-0 win over Greece, sealing top spot in the section ahead of Bulgaria and Argentina. The Super Eagles went on to push eventual finalists Italy all the way in the Round of 16, going down to a 2-1 defeat after extra time. Greece, for their part, headed for home after failing to score a single goal in their three games.
Did you know?
Maradona will make his FIFA World Cup coaching bow against Nigeria, the same team he faced in his last finals appearance as a player at USA '94. It that same campaign on American soil he registered his eighth and final FIFA World Cup goal and his last in an Albiceleste shirt, in the 4-0 win over Greece. He was subsequently sent home from the tournament after failing a drugs test. El Diez will also have fond memories of playing against Korea Republic, who were beaten 3-1 in Argentina’s opening match of their triumphant 1986 campaign.
25 - The combined number of FIFA World Cups that the four teams drawn in Group B have taken part in. Argentina lead the way with 14, followed by Korea Republic with seven, Nigeria with three and Greece with one.
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