Sunday, June 11, 2006

Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1

If there was any doubt that Group C was the toughest, and most likely the most entertaining, of this World Cup, Argentina and Ivory Coast put any such doubts to rest by playing a wide-open, full-throttle affair that was clearly the most pleasing on the eye in this tourney thus far. It was really a shame that either side had to lose.

Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola each scored in the first half to put Argentina in a comfortable 2-0 lead it was highly unlikely they would ever relinquish. Argentina just doesn't do such a thing. And they didn't. To the credit of Ivory Coast, Didier Drogba and friends controlled large portions of the game and created several legit chances, but only Drogba's goal in the 82nd minute showed the fruits of their work, which was unfortunate.

Juan Riquelme, as usual, was the graceful maestro in the midfield for Argentina, pulling the strings with barely the hint of much effort all afternoon and setting up both goals, the first on a free kick and the second on a superbly timed through pass that sent Saviola free in front of net. Most impressively perhaps, neither of Argentina's two young studs, Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, saw the field, which was both surprising and scary. The fact that coach Jose Pekerman still has such wildcards in his hand has to send shivers down the spine of any potential opponent.

You had to feel for Drogba, who played like a man possessed. Despite being a one-man show up top and being hounded relentlessly, his engine never slowed and he could be seen directing traffic all night. Complete team leader, he is. Late in the game he was dropping back into midfield desperate to get touches and ran down every loose ball during breaks in play to prevent Argentina from any time wasting. He was everywhere. To say he left it all in the field is an understatement, and it was nice to see him at least find the back of the net even in a losing effort.

Further to Ivory Coast's credit, Crespo's goal was the result of a scrap in front of the net. It was more the case of bad luck for the Ivorians than a defensive breakdown. As I said, it's a shame they didn't get at least a well-deserved point.

It will be interesting to see how Ivory Coast reacts. They played a balls-out style only to have their backs pushed against the wall after their World Cup debut. If they continue to play like they did here, there is no reason to believe they can't rebound with two solid efforts and possibly advance. One thing is for certain, though. The Ivory Coast-Holland game is must-see TV. That one should be fun and decked in a sea of orange.

These Argentinian girls are happy.


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