2010 World Cup Group B Preview: Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece
On paper, World Cup Group B is one of the most wide open. Argentina struggled to qualify, South Korea reached the semifinals in 2002, Greece won Euro 2004, and Nigeria is possibly the strongest African nation in the finals.
This was the group that all the top seeds wanted to get. With the least amount of travelling and one fixed hotel throughout the first stage, it's a much-coveted placing.
Diego Maradona will lead Argentina into battle in his first World Cup as a manager, and hopes to emulate Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) and Mario Zagalo (Brazil) as winners of the much-coveted trophy as both a player and a manager.
But the way Argentina stumbled to get where they are reveals many cracks in the great player's managerial skills.
Whilst they may appear to be as weak as at any time in living memory, you can never write-off a side that contains attacking talent such as Barcelona's 2009 Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero, and Angel di Maria of Benfica.
But that all depends on if Diego plays them. He has used 107 different players since taking over as manager in November 2008.
His decision to leave out Champions League winners Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso raised many eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic, but not as many as you would think in Argentina, where Maradona and the team are hailed as Gods.
It is worth noting that Diego is not even the South American manager under most pressure. That falls to Dunga whose managerial style and playing style fall under regular dissection in Brazil.
Under Guus Hiddink, South Korea built a very steady reputation for themselves. That has continued through a qualifying campaign that saw them unbeaten, only conceding four goals. However, this well-drilled team lacks the players or the fervent home support of 2002 to make a real impact in South Africa.
Huh-Jung Moo's team is exciting to watch, and they never give up, so they can't be completely ruled out. But it will take their three opponents to turn off completely against them if they are to progress.
Nigeria will fancy their chances of making a real go of the group, and progressing to the last the quarterfinals after a favourable pairing within Group A.
Up front, they are incredibly powerful with Everton's Yakubu and Wolfsburg's Obafemi Martins providing the firepower. They will severly Jon Obi Mikel, their star in midfield, after the Chelsea player pulled out with a knee injury. Their defence remains their Achilles heel though, and they don't look capable of winning tight matches.
The European Champions of 2004 will fancy themselves in this group, too. Greece still possesses a brilliant team ethic, and will be difficult for any team to beat, as they never give up. Their front line remains a problem area, and they will look to sneak wins rather than go out and win matches.
Theofanis Gekas of Eintract Frankfurt finished as UEFA's top scorer during qualification with 10 goals, and has a good international record with 20 goals from 47 matches. If he can keep up his recent run, then the counter-attacking style of the Greeks could make them formidable foes in this open group.
Group B Fixtures:
Match (04) June 12—South Korea vs. Greece (Nelson Mandela Bay, 48,000)
Match (03) June 12—Argentina vs. Nigeria (Ellis Park Stadium, 62,567)
Match (18) June 17—Greece vs. Nigeria (Free State Stadium, 48,000)
Match (20) June 17—Argentina vs. South Korea (Soccer City, 91,141)
Match (35) June 22—Nigeria vs. South Korea (Moses Mahiba Stadium, 74,000)
Match (36) June 22—Greece vs. Argentina (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 46,000)
Players to Watch:
Park Chu-Young (KOR), Obafemi Martins (NIG), Angel Di Maria (ARG), Georgios Karagounis (GRE)
Argentina (14), Greece (1), South Korea (7), and Nigeria (3), have competed in 25 World Cups between them.