The knock-out stage at the World
MEXICO vs. URUGUAY
3.00pm – Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
The two most impressive non-seeded teams of the tournament so far, meet in a game neither dare lose in Rustenberg. A draw would suit both sides very kindly, but the Mexicans will be conscious of having to face Argentina in the second round like they did four years ago. Defeat that day will still be in the minds of some of the more experienced heads, and with Carlos Vela almost certainly out of this match, and a possible knockout meeting with Diego Maradona’s side, maybe the fluid central American side will be tempted to attack the Group A leaders. Uruguay know any result, bar a defeat will confirm top spot in the group and Diego Forlan will have his eye on increasing his goal tally. It could be a frustrating night in South Africa, in a game that the host nations’ supporters don’t know who to support.
FRANCE vs. SOUTH AFRICA
3pm – Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
We’ve grown accustomed to drama in the French camp, but since Zinedine Zidane ended his illustrious career with an ill-advised head-butt on Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final they’ve seemingly had a curse floating above them. Humiliation two years later at the European Championships, was followed by a shambolic qualifying campaign for the World Cup, which ended in Thierry Henry scandalously giving his country a ‘helping hand’ in overcoming the Republic of Ireland. Now in South Africa, things have hardly improved. Defeat at the hands of Mexico preceded a bore draw with Uruguay and now a goalless Nicolas Anelka has been sent home, after a disagreement with Coach Raymond Domenech. The team then refused to train on Sunday in protest to Anelka being banished from the squad, and fears the team will not play against South Africa are still very much alive. Granted, the team need a minor miracle to still qualify – a victory and a five goal swing in their favour over Mexico to be exact – but the French teams’ actions have overshadowed the match itself. South Africa need a similar scenario to qualify, but if nothing else they’ll be looking to sign off from the World Cup in style.
NIGERIA vs. KOREA REPUBLIC
7.30pm – Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Of the three sides chasing a spot in the knock-out phase, Nigeria are the least fancied of the trio. Their inability to find the net has hindered their chances, while the sternness of Korea’s defence, albeit it breached on four occasions against Argentina, could be enough to end their interest in the competition. Seeing two African sides go out of the group stage in one day would be a huge blow to the tournament as a whole, but Korea are in the driving seat. A win, by an equal or greater margin than a Greece win over Argentina, if they indeed are successful, would secure their progress. Park Chu-young will lead the attack once again while Nigeria are without the suspended Sani Kaita after his sending off against Greece, a turnaround and defeat that the Africans are sure to look back on as decisive.
GREECE vs. ARGENTINA
7.30pm – Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Such is Argentina’s depth of attackers that even if the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi miss out against the former European Champions, the likes of Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito can step in ably with Greece likely to be in for a torrid evening. Unless Nigeria pull off their first win of the tournament, Greece will have to beat the group leaders in Pretoria to qualify, and even then a Korea win could yet deny them. It spoke volumes about the Greek ambition that it took the sending off of Kaita to act as a motivation for Otto Rehhagel’s side to push forward against the Nigerians, but they can expect few favours from in-form Argentina. The three-time winners looked imperious in their first two group games, and appear unrelenting when going forward – Greece should prepare to expect the same, even from a potential second string. Their defensive nature is likely to pose a dilemma for Rehhagel, who adopts a withdrawn style of play and chasing the game is simply not in the Greek make-up. Adding to the four they put past South Korea could be a mere formality for Maradona’s men.