Netherlands survives in ‘Group of Death’At every World Cup, there is always a so-called “Group of Death,” featuring four strong teams expected to play evenly matched contests. This year, the moniker went to Group C, with Argentina, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro.
Forward Arjen Robben led the Netherlands to a 1-0 win over Serbia Sunday night Korean time, scoring the only goal in the 18th minute and missing the net three other times by only a couple of feet combined. But no one else on the Dutch team provided any offense.
Serbia and Montenegro threatened an equalizer 25 minutes into the second half, when Serbian midfielder Ognjen Koroman fired a kick from just outside the penalty box. Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar stopped him, then stopped the game to call for trainers as he experienced cramps, something he did two other times in the second half. Koroman also just missed a tying goal at the end of the first half with another powerful kick from the edge of the penalty box.
Still, the Dutch had to be buoyed by the dazzling performance of Robben, 22, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League. “We knew before the game that it would be difficult,” Robben said. “We slowed down a little in the second half but we can be happy overall.”
In the other game in the group early Sunday, Argentina hung on for a thrilling 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast, considered Africa’s best team by many experts.
Early Monday, Mexico, whose talent level has never translated into success in previous World Cups, made a statement in Group D, with an impressive 3-1 victory over Iran.
Mexico scored two goals in a three-minute span with under 20 minutes left in the match, as Omar Bravo and Zinha capitalized on Iran’s shaky defense.
The return of Mexico’s goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez from his father’s funeral on Saturday proved inspirational. He made a spectacular, momentum-killing save on a low header from Vahid Hashemian 11 minutes into the match.
In another Group D match, the historical link between Angola and its former colonial ruler Portugal was anticlimactic. Portugal’s Pauleta received a feed from captain Luis Figo from the left for the lone score of the game in the fourth minute. Portugal, which tallied 35 goals in 12 qualifying games, sat on the lead and settled for long-range shots the rest of the way. Midfielders Figo and Tiago kept possession but rarely drove forward to create chances.
“A victory even if it’s by the narrowest of margins is excellent,” said Portugal's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. “We have three points in the bag.”
by Yoo Jee-ho