By AVI CREDITOR
Greece could only sit back on its heels for so long.
Despite flustering Argentina's attack for almost 80 minutes, Diego Maradona's side, which controlled the vast majority of possession and peppered the Greek goal with shots, broke through the stingy defense on a Martin Demichelis header in the 77th minute and captured first place in Group B with a 2-0 victory.
La Albiceleste will be joined in the knockout stage by South Korea, which fought from behind to take the lead and then held on for a 2-2 draw with Nigeria to eliminate the Super Eagles. The Taegeuk Warriors reached the knockout stage for the first time on foreign soil, with the only other occasion coming during their miraculous semifinal run when they co-hosted the World Cup in 2002.
Argentina and South Korea joined Uruguay and Mexico as teams to cement their spots in the Round of 16, continuing the demise of European and African sides in this year's World Cup.
Here are brief recaps from Tuesday's final two matches:
ARGENTINA 2, GREECE 0
Lionel Messi couldn't catch a break, either hitting the woodwork or having Greek goalie Alexandros Tzorvas come up with a big save, but it didn't matter, as Demichelis and late substitute Martin Palermo tallied the goals that sent Greece home.
Messi turned in another sterling performance, proving once again that he doesn't have to score to be the best player on the pitch. His saved shot rebounded to Palermo for the final dagger in Greece's World Cup run, and Argentina managed to dominate with somewhat of a B-team on the pitch.
Maradona trotted out a lineup that omitted Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Gabriel Heinze and Javier Mascherano, among others, but it didn't matter. Argentina controlled two-thirds of the possession and outshot Greece, 22-7.
La Albiceleste will meet Mexico in the Round of 16 for the second straight World Cup. Maxi Rodriguez' extra-time winner in 2006 eliminated El Tri from the tournament.
SOUTH KOREA 2, NIGERIA 2
Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young scored off set pieces, and South Korea battled back from an early 1-0 deficit to keep its tournament run alive.
Nigeria shot itself in the foot repeatedly after Kalu Uche scored the opening goal in the 12th minute. Multiple times the Super Eagles were whistled for fouls deep in their own end, and twice the Taegeuk Warriors made them pay, as Lee scored his second goal of the tournament off a free-kick header, and Park hit a 20-yard free kick past Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama in the 49th minute.
Yakubu had the miss of the tournament when he failed to score into an empty net from the goalmouth in the 66th minute. He bounced back to slot home a penalty kick just minutes later to tie the score at 2-all, and despite all its self-inflicted wounds (22 fouls, seven corner kicks yielded), Nigeria still stood a chance to advance.
However, second-half substitute Victor Obinna twice shot just wide in the final minutes, and Nigeria joined Cameroon and South Africa as African teams to tumble out of the tournament in the group stage.
By taking second place, South Korea secured itself a Round-of-16 date with Group A winner Uruguay.
GROUP B FINAL TABLE
1. Argentina……..9 points, +6 GD
2. South Korea…4 points, -1 GD
3. Greece…………3 points, -2 GD
4. Nigeria…………1 point, -3 GD
SBI'S GROUP B BEST XI
Do you think Argentina will win it all? Who do you like in the Uruguay-South Korea matchup? Disappointed in the showing by the African teams?
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