Monday, November 29, 1999

Argentines light up World Cup after S.African gloom

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Argentina lit up the World Cup with the tournament's first hat trick on Thursday, sweeping aside a spirited South Korea and lifting the gloom after host South Africa's likely elimination.In a tournament short on goals up to now, the Argentines played a thrilling game to beat South Korea 4-1, equalling the previous highest tally in Germany's 4-0 rout of Australia.Argentina led a South American charge that makes them by far the most successful region in the tournament so far, with five wins and two draws from seven matches.The exciting Argentine coup came after South African vuvuzelas went quiet and national elation turned to despondency following a disastrous 3-0 defeat by Uruguay.A near miracle will be required for them to avoid the shame of being the first hosts eliminated in the first round.Argentina's victory, with World Player of the Year Lionel Messi orchestrating countless attacks and Gonzalo Higuain banging in a hat trick, brought them close to qualification for the second round and hoisted their status to one of the favourites.They could have scored even more without the heroics of Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.Argentina's first goal was put into his own net by Korean defender Park Chu-young. The Asian side fought until the end, pulling one back just before halftime, but were outclassed by Argentina's mobility and skill.There was more trouble between police and stadium guards who have been removed from duty in a wage dispute. Police fired rubber bullets and a stun grenade to disperse stewards protesting outside the offices of their employers, a local security firm, in Cape Town.Police and guards previously clashed early on Monday in Durban.OPTIMISM QUASHEDSouth African optimism over qualifying for the second round was crushed by a 3-0 drubbing on Wednesday night which gives them only an unlikely chance of qualifying -- depending on what one commentator called a "fairytale" sequence of other results.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 revive their continent's chances against a weak Greek side.Nigeria, who held Argentina to a 1-0 defeat in their first match, brought on Peter Odemwingie and Kala Uche as a fresh strike force to try to defeat Greece, so far one of the tournament's weakest teams, and stick close to Argentina at the top of group B.If the Greeks fail to win, Argentina will qualify.Only a major upset win against 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up France, plus other favourable results, can get South Africa through to the second round."The sangomas (witch doctors) did not work," one woman screamed in the crowd in Pretoria after the local Bafana Bafana side misfired in midfield and showed no punch in attack to end an unbeaten run of 13 matches. Many fans left early, their vuvuzelas tucked under their arms.Until now, cautious play and low scores have characterised the 32 teams' first games of the tournament and Argentina's performance was a breath of fresh air for fans desperate for more goals as sides step up a gear to win the points they need to reach the last 16 of Africa's first World Cup.Marksmen from Cristiano Ronaldo to Fernando Torres to Wayne Rooney have disappointed so far, and will want to follow Argentina's example.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. Police have had to take over security at five stadiums because of various disputes with stewards.Hooliganism has been avoided however, with potential troublemakers from England blocked from entering, and another 17 "undesirable" Argentines deported on Wednesday.South Africa's glowing pride will not disappear even if Bafana Bafana are eliminated.They have so far earned huge kudos by successfully staging Africa's first World Cup, confounding pessimists at home and abroad who predicted for years that it would be a disaster scarred by major crime.But there was also a reminder on Thursday of a tragedy which marred the start of the World Cup, when Nelson Mandela attended the funeral of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani, killed in a car accident on the eve of the opening ceremony. Mandela, father of the post-apartheid nation, withdrew from the ceremony because of the tragedy.(Reporting by Reuters World Cup team; Writing by Barry Moody and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ossian Shine)(For more news on Reuters India, click
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