Palermo fires Argentina to maximum points

Greece 0 Argentina 2
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The Independent Football

Argentina duly won Group B in Polokwane last night to qualify for a tie against Mexico at Soccer City on Sunday, when they will need to be sharper than against a drearily defensive Greece.

It will, admittedly, be a different team, as Diego Maradona made seven changes for this game, bringing in Sergio Aguero and Internazionale's Diego Milito as a useful pair of replacements for Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez.

Following a hat-trick against South Korea, Higuain would doubtless have relished the opportunity to cement his position as the tournament's leading goalscorer. Instead he watched his team-mates run into a wall of white shirts until the centre-half Martin Demichelis and then substitute Martin Palermo scored in the last 13 minutes.

Greece relied on the familiar hit-and-run style with which Otto Rehhagel coaxed them to the 2004 European Championship. They used three central defenders, staying tightly bunched, plus a clutch of defensive midfielders to smother Argentina's ball-players; with some success.

The goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas was still required to make five good saves in the first half alone and two more after the interval, before Demichelis and Palermo scored, and Messi hit a post. Already facing elimination at half-time, Greece were forced into three early substitutions yet remained stubbornly defensive. Two minutes after the resumption, however, Samaras should have put them ahead. A long ball caught Argentina with inadequate cover, but Samaras pulled a wonderful chance wide.

As the game wore on, the tactics became increasingly unfathomable. Sent home, Greece will not be missed.

Argentina (4-3-1-2): Romero; Otamendi, Burdisso, Demichelis, C Rodriguez; Veron, Bolatti, Maxi Rodriguez (Di Maria, 62); Messi; Milito (Palermo, 79), Aguero (Pastore, 76).

Greece (3-4-2-1): Tzorvas; Kyrgiakos, Moras, Torosidis (Patsatzoglou, 55); Vyntra, Papastathopoulos, Papadopoulos, Tziolis; Katsouranis (Ninis, 54), Karagounis (Spiropoulos, h-t); Samaras.

Referee R Irmatov (Uzbekistan).