Argentina down Greece 2-0, top Group B (Lead)

June 23rd, 2010 - 3:48 am ICT by IANS  

Polokwane, June 23 (DPA) Argentina’s reserve team easily downed Greece 2-0 at the World Cup Tuesday, courtesy of second-half goals from Martin Palermo and their most unlikely striker, defender Martin Demichelis.
The result allowed Lionel Messi and friends to comfortably win Group B with a maximum nine points from three games. In a repeat of the 2006 World Cup, they now face Mexico in the Round of 16 Sunday.

Despite plenty of goodwill, the gods did not smile on Greece, who ultimately paid for their ultra-defensive attitude, rarely creating any chances in Polokwane.

With South Korea keeping them at arms’ length with a 2-2 draw against Nigeria, the Euro 2004 champions return home after closing their campaign in third place with three points.

With qualification virtually certain already, Maradona made seven changes to his team by resting, among others, tournament top-scorer Gonzalo Higuain, captain Javier Mascherano and striker Carlos Tevez.

That gave Inter Milan Champions League hero Diego Milito the opportunity to play his first World Cup match from the start.

Greece, by contrast, made only two changes to the side that defeated Nigeria 2-1. And they made their tactical intentions clear enough by fielding Giorgios Samaras as the lonely striker.

Lionel Messi was donning the Argentina captain armband for the first time in his career, a present ahead of his 23rd birthday Thursday.

But Maradona’s heir apparent did not enjoy himself as much as he would have liked, falling victom of Greek coach Otto Rehhagel’s old fashioned man-to-man marking.

Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, whose job it was to stop the Barcelona player from expressing his talent, diligently obeyed his orders, rarely hesitating to foul his target any time he got into a dangerous position. Despite not scoring for a third time in as many game, the enterprising Messi still managed to have a handful of tries at goal and win the FIFA Man of the Match award.

With Greece focusing on the defensive aspect of the game, it was Argentina that enjoyed most chances during the first half. But lack of accuracy on the part of the Argentinians, coupled with some great saves from Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas, prevented the South Americans from breaking the stalemate.

In the 18th, for instance, Tzorvas first denied Atletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero, then tipped a sizzler from Juan Sebastian Veron over the crossbar.

Argentina again came close to scoring in the 35th, but defender Vassilis Torosidis prevented them from having a chance at goal by sending an inviting Veron cross into corner.

Three minutes later came South Korea’s first equalizer, but the Greeks still refused to venture into their opponent’s half. And just before half-time, Tzorvas produced great saves to deny Maxi Rodriguez and Messi.

Greece’s first real chance finally came in the 48th, when Samaras was served inside the Argentine area and found the space to shoot but sent the ball wide.

And it was only a matter of time before Argentina was to score, the goal coming in the 77th from an unstoppable DeMichelis rifle from close range.

In the dying minutes of the match Palermo made it 2-0 by tapping in the rebound after Messi had a trademark slalom run and shot at goal parried by the Greek keeper.

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