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World cup 2010: Messi set to sink South Korea

South Koreans face a daunting task ahead of them tomorrow as they face the Argentine National Team in a Group B world cup match

Messi, the 2009 FIFA world player of the year, made a major impact on day two of the World Cup with a dazzling performance in a 1-0 win over Nigeria. He failed to score, but only because Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama made some spectacular saves.

The Barcelona forward’s darting runs and ability to draw in opponents will be key to Argentina’s bid for a third title, and he looks determined to silence those who say he struggles to reproduce his brilliant form for Barcelona when wearing his country’s colors.

He said this week that his teammates should also get the credit. But without Messi, Argentina would be far less threatening.

Another vital factor for the Argentines will be whether Maradona can prove he can cut it as a world-class coach.

Back home, where he’s enjoyed cult status since almost single-handedly leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title, he’s been branded by some a liability as a coach. In the qualifiers, he used more than 100 players as he struggled to settle on a team and formation.

But Argentina’s players have been heaping praise on Maradona this week <emdash /> and united in crediting him for Gabriel Heinze’s diving header from a corner, which proved just enough to beat Nigeria.

“Diego prepared us for a move like that,” Veron, who supplied the corner, said Tuesday. “Luckily, it came off first time.”

The players said Maradona had been studying how Nigeria defended corners, and concluded that it would be best to exploit a perceived vulnerability by floating the ball to the edge of their area for an onrushing Argentine player to strike, as opposed to placing it nearer Nigeria’s imposing defenders.

“Heinze’s goal was the work of Diego,” said defender Martin Demichelis. “Diego prepared everything to perfection.”

Maradona has made one change to his starting lineup for the South Korea match, with Liverpool midfielder Maxi Rodriguez coming in for Veron, who has failed to shake off a calf injury. Maradona said Wednesday he feared Veron would be ruled out of the tournament if he aggravated the injury.

Striker Carlos Tevez said he would happily give up all the titles he’s won in his career to win a World Cup.

“It’s just unique,” the Manchester City striker said. “A good World Cup means winning it. It’s the only thing that’s important. Otherwise, the team will only be criticized.”

South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semifinalist, leads Group B on goal difference after beating Greece 2-0 on Saturday, and Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung is expected to be the main threat to the Argentines.

Park told Argentine newspaper Clarin this week that his team will be very wary of Messi.

“He’s magic,” Park said. “Argentina’s one of the best teams in the world. But Korea is in good form and will have to defend well -and then hit them on the counterattack.”

“As the team spirit is in upswing from the victory in the first match, we will face (Argentina) with confidence,” Park told reporters in Rustenburg. “We believe we can produce good results if we play at the top of our game.”

Tevez said he would offer advice to Argentina defender Jonas Gutierrez about Park, who captains the South Koreans. The pair were formerly teammates at Manchester United.

“I know him well, he’s my friend,” Tevez said about Park, who scored South Korea’s second goal in the win over Greece. “He is always alone and free” to receive passes.