Argentina and South Korea cruised to victories in their Saturday, World Cup openers, making their Thursday meeting a battle of Group B's leaders. A winner would be the first team confirmed into the tournament's knockout stages, needing only a draw on Tuesday to win the group.
That winner is assumed to be Argentina, but as was the case throughout their qualifying campaign, the Albiceleste remain a flawed team. The three-pronged attack adopted by Maradona is a beguiling blend of grace, desire, and opportunism, but it is overshadowing questions in the midfield and limitations at the back.
Today Argentina carries that profile into a dangerous match against South Korea. The Koreans surprised many in their win over Greece, and they impressed to the degree that few question whether they're capable of beating the group favorites.
However, saying a team is capable of doing something is different than saying they will. Very few feel South Korea will beat Argentina.
But there are a number of reasons to think they will.
Argentina, Going Forward: Gonzalo Higuaín will play along the line with Lionel Messi and Carlos Tévez deployed slightly deeper in a three pronged attack with interesting stylistic balance. Messi is the creativity and subtly while Tévez is the determination and brute force. All the while, Higuaín's positioning makes the center forward dangerous enough to prevent either Messi or Tévez from garnering too much attention.
Argentina's problems going forward are in the middle of the pitch. The three-man attack makes it difficult for Ángel Di María to have an impact going forward (and if he's not having an impact going forward, why is he playing). Javier Mascherano is a deep-sitting ball-winner, and the one player who can distribute and promote the linking, Juan Sebastián Verón, remains a question. There are murmurs that Maxi Rodríguez could start ahead of Verón, which will do little to help get the ball to the attackers.
To help, Messi could drop back deeper or Verón could play. If he does, he will need to play better. Regardless, although Argentina had few problems against the thin Nigerian midfield, they will need to answer these questions against better equipped South Korean team.
South Korea, Going Forward: The Tigers of Asian have advantages on both wings. Lee Chong-Yong should dominate his match-up with left back Gabriel Heinze; likewise, Park Ji-Sung holds advantages over either Jonas Gutierrez or Nicolás Otamendi. When those wingers beat the fullbacks and draw out the central defenders, space will be open for forward Park Chu-Young. Filling these spaces, Javier Mascherano may turn-out to be Argentina's most valuable defender.
And in that way, Argentina's midfield may also be the key to their defense. Whether it's Mascherano's role as infrequent fifth defender or Maxi's (of Jonas's) job protecting Jonas (or Otamendi), the midfield's ability to augment the back line's problems with Korea's wingers will determine if the Albiceleste can prevent an upset.
How The Match Turns: In all these scenarios, Korea midfielder Ki Sung-Yong could be decisive. Whether it's getting the ball to his wingers, being the outlet that gets the ball back once the wingers break down their opposition, or maintaining possession such that Argentina is preventing from exploding into attack, a big day from the 21-year-old Celtic midfielder could vault South Korea to the top of their group.