Argentina prevailed 2-1 in last night’s Group of Death opener in Hamburg. First half goals from Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola put the albiceleste in control, before Didier Drogba’s late strike breathed life into the match and made it a nervy last ten minutes.
The match was easily the best of the World Cup so far, with two high class teams playing open attacking football. Argentina should have taken the lead following Roberto Ayala’s powerful header which goalkeeper Tizie appeared to fumble across the line early in the first half, but the linesman failed to spot this and play continued. However, with Riquelme pulling the strings it was not long before they went ahead. First, Crespo bundled in his teasing cross and then Saviola ran on to his perfectly weighted slide-rule pass for a neat second. Keita should have pulled one back but his point-blank header from Drogba’s clever flick was straight at Abbondanzieri.
In the second half, Henri Michel made a series of attacking substitutions which almost paid off. In contrast Pekerman withdrew Riquelme and Saviola and Argentina began to sit back. Too often however, selfishness cost the Ivorians as Dindane in particular looked to go it alone rather than pass to a better placed team-mate. Their persistence paid off in the 82nd minute when Drogba converted Boka’s cross but their was no dream finish.
Argentina are the most impressive team we have seen so far. With players like Messi and Tevez still to feature, their squad has a lot of depth, more so than the likes of Germany and England. As for the Ivorians, their first appearance in a World Cup was excellent and the Dutch and the Serbs must be concerned. Based on performances to date , I would rank them second behind Argentina. It’s a shame that only two teams can qualify from this group.