In our latest podcast, we spoke to Daniel CHO, my colleague correspondent for South Korea here on Soccernet, and we talked about how our teams met in 1986 and how their manager spent the whole match kicking the hell out of our manager as Diego MARADONA inspired our team to a 3-1 victory that was never in doubt.
Today, 24 years later, and after both teams have won in their Group B debut, to predict the winner of this Thursday's match between Argentina and South Korea is not as easy as in the 80s.
So I don't think we should be expecting a walk in the PARK for Argentina.
After my unsuccessful attempt of a funny pun using the surname of South Korea's best player, I have to get serious and talk a bit about how I don't think this match should be taken for granted by Argentina fans.
The first round of matches is officially over at the World Cup and with an impressive 3-0 win by our neighbours from Uruguay, the second has started. I'm probably too lazy or surely too busy to come up with a power ranking of the 32 nations that are playing in the World Cup after what each team did in their debut.
I won't give you the entire list of 32, but what if you asked me to give you my Top5? I have to say I can't say no to that hypothetical request.
So here you have it:
1. Germany: without a shadow of a doubt.
2. South Korea: Only them, Brazil and Holland managed to score more than one goal (with the exception of Germany, of course), but it wasn't just the goals as I'll explain later.
3. Japan: A dull match, but Japan really played above their (and everybody's) expectations.
4. Switzerland: Following the same logic, they weren't brilliant but they set out to beat the hot favourites and champions of Europe and made the most of their chances whilst looking very solid in everyone of their lines.
5. Paraguay: What a result they got and what a solid performance. They could have taken all three points against the defending World Cup champions but Justo VILLAR punched the air and let DE ROSSI scored unmarked.
6. Argentina: Those who know me for a long time will appreciate that I'm never very indulgent with Argentina. I always demand a lot from our team and I'm never one to believe the hype or build it up myself. But I did see some really encouraging signs from our win over Nigeria.
There you have it. It's number 2 vs. number 6 in this almost ludicrous and subjective ranking I just came up with.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that South Korea made a good impression in my eyes. I will never ignore the fact that Greece were appalling and they don't even showed their defensive wall that made them famous and helped them win the Euro 2004.
Nonetheless, South Korea were great. As a team, they were better than most of the others I've seen so far and they can be a dangerous rival to any team. They never stop running. They are disciplined and they are compact. But they also have talent and experience in PARK Ji Sung.
Though it's not their individual talent that stands in the way between a confident prediction and me. I think we are way stronger than they are in that department.
As shown by Switzerland v. Spain or by North Korea v. Brazil (for a good part of the game), a team with less talent than the other can tactically level each team's strengths and can eventually get a result.
I'm not discovering powder here, but we should never ignore that notion and we should never underestimate a team that is convinced in playing according to a gameplan and that stick to it no matter what.
The winner of this encounter will advance and could be the first team guaranteed of a place in the eight-finals in South Africa. All they would need after their win is for Nigeria and Greece to share points when they meet up right after Argentina v. South Korea.
In a World Cup as unpredictable as this one (I'm saying unpredictable because I don't want to use foul language here! OK?), to guarantee qualification to the next stage after only the second group match could be priceless!
So Juan Sebastian VERON is out of this one. If Diego wanted to use him and this was the World Cup final, Seba would have played, because his injury is not that serious. What they don't want to do is risk it and miss him for the remainder of the tournament.
I've been getting some feedback from you and most of it has been criticizing the former Manchester United and Chelsea player.
He will be replaced by Maxi RODRIGUEZ, who will help Jonas GUTIERREZ covering the right hand side of our midfield-defence. This was probably the weakest aspect of our performance against Nigeria. VERON roamed around the entire pitch but he was seldom playing on the right flank. Instead, he was playing closer to Javier MASCHERANO and Lionel MESSI in the middle.
Maxi's inclusion will be welcomed by Jonas (it'll be interesting to see what those two do when we attack and whether they provide Lionel MESSI and Carlos TEVEZ options to offload some balls to the right and go for the one-two or an opening that they could find when Korean defenders have to pay attention to Maxi and/or Jonas. It could also work the other way around, and we all know Maxi is the player from this current squad we have in South Africa, with most World Cup goals scored (3 in Germany 2006).
There is another encouraging thing about this change in formation (and I hope these don't become my famous last words) as I think the best we have ever seen from MASCHERANO was when he had to play all alone as a defensive midfielder. He struggled when he had to share duties with Esteban CAMBIASSO in the past, he didn't shine as he had us used to shining when he was playing together with Fernando GAGO and he was always happier when he had nobody with whom he had to share chasing and marking duties with.
We have to wait and see how this all plays out, though my first impression is that we will have a faster team to face a quicker opposition and that, on paper, this looks as a more balanced formation.
What remains to be seen is what kind of a defensive strategy will South Korea employ to try to stop Lionel MESSI. Nigeria, as pointed very clearly by my colleague Kingsley on his correspondent blog here, focused more on keeping Angel DI MARIA in check and left Lionel MESSI a lot of room and time to do his things.
Am I worried about this? In theory, I'm not. As I think we have enough weapons to punish South Korea if they use two or more men to concentrate only on MESSI. On the other hand, The Flea could take on two or more men at some point and I don't even want to imagine what an unmarked Angel DI MARIA could to to Korea's defence or a Carlos TEVEZ or a Gonzalo HIGUAIN for that matter.
If they fail to click, then we also have the luxury of counting with a few other options in players such as Diego MILITO, Sergio AGÜERO or Javier PASTORE that could be game-changers up front.
Only eight hours to go till kickoff. I can't wait for 90 minutes in which at least, because of my love for our colours, I'm going to be entertained and I will be enjoying an early kick-off match for a change in this tournament! I'm absolutely looking forward for that. Bring it on!