WORLD CUP: Thursday's previews


When: 4:30 a.m. PT. Where: Soccer City (Johannesburg/Soweto)

TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 4:30 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 3 p.m.

Players to watch: Lionel Messi did everything but score in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Nigeria; he has the freedom to do as he pleases, and that makes things particularly difficult. Let him run, and he'll make you pay. Give him too much attention, someone else will step up. (And don't be certain that marking him tightly will slow him down.) Park Ji Sung has similar impact for the Koreans, and the level of competition won't bother him: He's played in his share of big matches at Manchester United.

The scoop: Both sides looked good in their openers, using speed and skill -- and special performances from their stars -- to dominate lesser foes. Messi, who benefited greatly from the switch to a 4-3-3 formation, might have scored several goals if not for Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama, and Park capped a dynamic day with a superb goal. A calf injury likely sends influential midfielder Juan Veron to Argentina's bench, with Maxi Rodriguez, who scored that stunning goal to eliminate Mexico four years ago, taking his place, and Nicolas Burdisso will probably take over for Jonas Gutierrez at right back.

History: Maradona and South Korea coach Huh Jung Moo faced off once before, with Huh marking the legendary attacker in Argentina's 3-1 victory at the 1986 World Cup. Huh was yellow-carded for a foot-first lunge at Maradona, who last year recalled the game: The Korean played taekwondo, not football, against us. I still remember Huh.”

Prediction: Argentina 3, South Korea 1


When: 7 a.m. PT. Where: Free State Stadium/Vodacom Park Stadium (Mangaung/Bloemfontein)

TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 7 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 5 p.m.

Players to watch: Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama prevented an Argentine rout in the Super Eagles' opener; half-Russian winger Peter Odemwingie, surprisingly left off the starters' list, could be key to creating chances. The Greeks need to think beyond defense, and Theofanis Gekas must make the most of his chances.

The scoop: Greece managed only two shots on goal against South Korea, and Nigeria just one vs. Argentina, and a scoreless tie will do neither team much good. The Super Eagles are likelier to strike; they're erratic, sure, but their superior athleticism could break down the Greeks' bunker. Otto Rehhagel couldn't have been happy with his defensive play in the loss to the Koreans, and he'll likely insert Sotririos Kyrgiakos, who didn't play, and Evangelos Moras, just back from injury, into his backline. The teams met in the 1994 World Cup, with Nigeria winning, 2-0.

History: Greece has played 19 games in major tournaments (World Cup, European Championship, Confederations Cup). Throw out their miracle run to the Euro 2004 crown, and the Greeks are 0-11-2 in these events, outscored, 27-2.

Prediction: Nigeria 0, Greece 0


When: 11:30 a.m. PT. Where: Peter Mokaba Stadium (Polokwane)

TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 11:30 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 7 p.m.

Players to watch: Giovani Dos Santos ran riot through South Africa's midfield in the tournament opener, but he needs Carlos Vela to find better success up front. The troubled French didn't create enough through winger Franck Ribery and midfielder Yoann Gourcuff against Uruguay; perhaps Thierry Henry's presence will lead to something.

The scoop: Uruguay's performance and the magnitude of its victory Wednesday over South Africa turns makes this game virtually must-win, especially for Mexico. El Tri's inefficiency in South Africa's box spurred Bafana Bafana's increasing confidence, and they were fortunate to come away with a draw. France is a far tougher assignment, although Mexico has the tools -- especially with Dos Santos -- to dictate play. But the finishing has to improve. France is in poor straits. Les Bleus has tremendous talent, as always, but dissent in the locker room, dissatisfaction with head coach Raymond Domenech and lacerating criticism from former stars is tearing them down.

History: France beat Mexico, 3-1, in the opener of the inaugural World Cup 80 years ago, played before a scant 1,000 fans in Montevideo, Uruguay. Raymond Kopa's late penalty lifted France to a 3-2 victory in a 1954 World Cup meeting, with Mexico forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez's grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, wearing the No. 10 shirt for El Tri. The third World Cup meeting was a 1-1 draw in 1966.

Prediction: Mexico 1, France 0