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Group B – Messi is all that… but is Argentina?

Group B

Full to the gills with striking talent, Argentina appears the clear favorite to advance out of Group B. The second spot is up for much debate. Greek will park the bus and try to stalemate opponents into submission but Nigeria boasts both speed and size to trouble the Greek defenses. As always South Korea will bring an amazingly fit side to the World Cup, but this year could be different for the Koreans who bring a team that looks to be as highly skilled as they are well-conditioned.

Gonzalo Higuain

Argentina

Striker – Lionel Messi

Everything that has been written about Messi’s ability is true. All of it. That said, at Barcelona he is afforded the enormous luxury of having both Xavi and Iniesta serving up some of his goals on a platter.

Argentina boasts the most talented strike force in this tournament (arguably any tournament). Consider Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez are slated to start for the Albicelestes. That leaves Inter Milan hitman Diego Milito and Atletico Madrid prodigy Sergio Aguero on the bench. That is FIREPOWER!

Striker – Gonzalo Higuain

Strange to think that in a year in which he netted 29 times for Real Madrid, Gonzalo Higauin’s job status would be up for question. But when you don’t win it all (Champions League and La Liga) the ax has to fall on someone. So Higuain will try to do what he always does, score goals, knowing that he can help both himself and his country with a strong showing this summer. The main knock on him however is that he scores great hauls of goals only because he is given an even great number of chances. With Milito and Aguero nipping at his heels, Higuain must get off to a flying start, especially given his manager’s flights of fancy and crazy selection tactics

Midfield – Angel Di Maria

It is amazing for a team so replete with goal scorers to be so thin through the midfield. Javier Mascherano had a down year with Liverpool, Juan Veron is well past his sell-by date and while starting winger Jonas Gutierrez had a strong season, it was with Newcastle in the Championship. That leaves an enormous burden on the shoulders of young Benfica winger Angel Di Maria.  Heavily linked with a summer move to Chelsea, the attack-minded Di Maria will need to turn provider if Argentina are to make a deep run in this year’s tournament.

Angelos Charisteas

Greece

Striker – Angelos Charisteas

The talisman of Greece’s improbable Euro 2004 victory, remembered best for his match-winning tally in the final, Charisteas will be leaned on heavily to produce the goods this summer. Over the past seasons in Germany’s Bundesliga,  his goal returns have been increasingly meager for Leverkusen and then Nurnberg.

Midfield – Giorgias Karagounis

The man sporting the 10 shirt for Greece is a grind-it-out, battle-tested veteran. With a propensity for making the hard, late, caution-earning tackle, Karagounis could be confused for a defensive, holding midfielder. But his powerful, accurate free kicks and deft touch on the ball tell a different story. At 33, questions exist about whether he can keep up with the speed of the international game, but the crafty Panathanaikos player embodies the Greek team first philosophy and will be right in the middle of action, win or lose.

Midfield – Sotirios Ninis

Considered as a potential successor to Karagounis in the Greek midfield, Ninis is only 20, but has played with Panathinaikos for three years. Eager to get forward and create the final pass or launch his own shot from distance, Manchester United and AC Milan are rumored to be tracking Ninis’ progress through this world cup.

Defender – Sokratis Papastrathopoulos

A surplus defender in Otto Rehhagel’s squad, the 21 year old Papastrathopoulos, who plays his club ball in Genoa earns the honor of having the longest name in the 2010 World Cup. While he is not an expected starter at the beginning of the tournament, he has captained the Greek Under-19 team to the finals of the 2006-07 European Championships, and if the Greeks begin to leak goals, could see extended playing time later in the first round.

Peter Odemwingie

Nigeria

Striker – Nwankwo Kanu

Kanu is back again in 2010 as the captain of the Super Eagles. Despite constant media criticism for inconsistent performances, Kanu remains Africa’s most decorated player.  At 6′-5″, his skill set is deceptive and he looks set to torture defenses, regardless of size. With his club, Portsmouth, relegated this season, decisions about his playing future will have to be answered after the tournament and a good showing could land him a lucrative final contract.

Striker – Peter Odemwingie

What he lacks in the European pedigree of the rest of the Nigerian attackers, Kanu, Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Odemwingie makes up for in effort. He never tires and never surrenders the cause and will be useful to coach Lars Lagerback given his versatility. Operating on the wing, he can beat defenders for pace and can slot into the middle of the pitch and muscle his way in on net. Should be a very good compliment to his captain, Kanu.

Defense – Danny Shittu

The anchor of the Super Eagles’ defense for both the 2008 and 2010 African Cup of Nations, Shittu draws the un-enviable duty of marking Lionel Messi in the first match of the tournament. But the strong, combative centerback will happily take to his task of clattering, crowding and otherwise punishing Messi and any other Argentines into submission. Despite limited appearances for Bolton following his arrival from Watford, Shittu has developed into a player for Nigeria who ends up engaged in seeming mortal combat with opposition attackers, while managing to keep both his head, and the referee’s cards in his pocket. He will need to do both of those things if Nigeria is to have a chance in this group.

Lee Young-Pyo

South Korea

Striker – Ahn Jung-Hwan

At 34 years of age, critics wonder what Ahn has left in the tank. A virtual deity in South Korea for his performance at the 2002 World Cup, he has recently been recalled to the national side after two years left out in the cold. Memorably, after scoring the shock Golden Goal knocking Italy out in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, Ahn was sacked by his Italian club Perugia. He has indeed slowed since that day, and his inclusion in South Korea’s final 23 reveals some of the desperation of coach Huh Jung-Moo to find a reliable goal-scoring threat outside of Manchester United superstar Park Ji-Sung.

Midfield – Ki Sung-Yueng

Another young player being tracked by the biggest clubs in Europe, Ki, who began his career in Australia, moved to Celtic in 2007. At 21 years old, Ki has great skill as a playmaker and coupled with Park Ji-Sung and Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong, South Korea is looking at perhaps its most talented midfield ever. They will need to be their best to provide service for a forward grouping that will struggle to find the net against top international competition.

Defender – Lee Young-Pyo

A fixture in the South Korean side, having featured in 10 World Cup qualifiers. Another standout player during South Korea’s improbable 2002 run to the semifinals, Lee cashed in with moves to PSV, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund. Having become only the seventh player to eclipse the 100 cap mark for South Korea, coach Huh Jung-Moo will be looking to the 33 year old left back to lead South Korea back to the late rounds of this year’s World Cup.

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