JOHANNESBURG: Argentina`s quixotic coach Diego Maradona is to relive an old rivalry when the stylish South Americans take on a South Korea side led by the man who tried to stop him during their 1986 World Cup encounter.
In Thursday`s other two games, France need their misfiring strikers to finally show their worth against the neat-passing Mexicans while one of Africa`s main hopes, Nigeria, hope to stage a Greek tragedy in Bloemfontein.
Cautious play and low scores have characterised the 32 teams` first games of the tournament. Neutrals are desperate to see the net bulge more as sides now go for the points they need to reach the last 16 of Africa`s first World Cup.
Whether it has been the altitude, winter temperatures, new Jalubani ball or the cacophony of vuvuzelas affecting teams, only 28 goals have been scored in 17 games. That average of 1.65 is well below the previous lowest of 2.21 at Italy 1990.
Big names from Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres to Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney are yet to score.
Diego Forlan, though, did his bit for the overall goal tally by notching two for Uruguay in their convincing 3-0 win onWednesday night over hosts South Africa.
Germany are the only other team to have scored more than twice, in a 4-0 demolition of Australia.
Switzerland scored the tournament`s biggest upset so far with a 1-0 defeat of previous bookies` favourite Spain.
The result sent the normally restrained Swiss into the streets in celebration at home, some touting vuvuzela horns.
After that game, Brazil were installed as favourites to win, followed by Spain and Argentina, then England, Netherlands and Germany, according to British bookmakers Ladbrokes.
"It was a return to the Spain of old," the betting firm`s spokesman Nick Weinberg said. "Their underachievers tag may not be confined to the history books just yet."
South Africa`s defeat leaves them with one point and needing a result against France in their last Group A game if they are to progress to the second round and avoid being the first World Cup hosts to go out at the start.
The Bafana Bafana (Boys) played poorly against Uruguay, the noise of vuvuzelas fading in the stadium as the goals went in.
Off the field, labour unions are threatening to embarrass the South African government by interrupting power, transport and security operations if their wage demands are not met.
Hooliganism has thankfully not appeared, with various potential troublemakers from England blocked from entering, and another 17 "undesirable" Argentines deported on Wednesday.
They will miss seeing the Maradona and Lionel Messi show at Soccer City in Thursday`s first game.
Messi pulled the strings in Argentina`s 1-0 defeat of Nigeria, and Maradona hopes his world player of the year will again be tormentor-in-chief of South Korea.
The Asians are in buoyant mood themselves after a 2-0 opening win over disappointing Greece.
MARADONA COURTS CONTROVERSY
Coach Huh Jung-moo was assigned to block Maradona when Argentina met South Korea at the start of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He failed, the Maradona-inspired Argentina team wining that game 3-1 en route to lifting the trophy.
"I remember Huh very well," Maradona has said. "In 1986 the Koreans played taekwondo, not football, against us."
Huh, though, is not overawed. "They are a strong team, but the strongest team doesn`t always win," he said on the eve.
Ever controversial when playing, Maradona lashed out at fellow football greats Pele and Michel Platini on Wednesday after criticism of his coaching ability.
Speaking as usual in a press room too small for the massive media interest he generates, Maradona said Pele belonged in a "museum" and labelled Platini a "know-all."
Nigeria have by all accounts had a shambolic preparation for the World Cup, including a new Swedish coach, Lars Lagerback, who only began working with the players in May.
Yet most pundits think one of Africa`s traditionally strongest football nations should have enough to inflict more misery on Greece, whose poor opening performance added to national suffering over the financial crisis.
In Thursday`s Group A game, French coach Raymond Domenech may bring back the nation`s most prolific striker, Thierry Henry, in the hope his forwards will score their first international goal since November.
Mexico are widely admired for a fast-passing game, but also lack finishing power. "You must make sure they don`t get too much possession, otherwise you`re in trouble," Domenech said.
BDST: 1224hrs, June 17, 2010