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Argentina 4-1 South Korea
18/06/2010  by Mirrorfootball
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Diego Maradona kissed, hugged, squeezed and winked at each of his players.

There wasn't a cheek left unbristled by the pirate beard. Lionel Messi was lifted up in a bear hug, Carlos Tevez pecked, hat-trick hero Gonzalo Higuain's cheek stroked.

Dishing out love appears to be top of the Maradona coaching manual. No wonder Argentina are playing such sexy attacking football.

“I'd would prefer if they were women!” joked Maradona when asked about his affectionate managerial style. “But it is ok. I am dating Veronica. She is 31. Blonde. And beautiful.”

Argentina became the first nation to qualify for the second round with a swashbuckling demolition of Korea. And Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain harvested their first hat-trick since Gabriel Batistuta at France 98.

“Job done,” added Maradona as his side, with two wins, head for a second round showdown against Uruguay, Mexico or France. “If I have improved as a coach, it is for the players to say. But if you have such a sensational team, it is easy.

“We want to go on playing this way. We don't want to think too much about other teams.”

Maradona had a rosary wrapped around his hand as he prowled the technical area, but there is no need for praying when you’ve got the fizz and invention. Messi, Carlos Tevez and Higuain, his tap-in treble coming from a combined total of 14 yards out, created havoc.

Higuain grabbed the goals but once again it the sublime skills of Messi, sub Sergio Aguero, Maradona’s son-in-law, and Tevez that means Argentina have a momentum while rivals Spain have yet to get going.

Higuain taunted England and Spain by saying: “It’s an advantage for us that we are already qualified while other teams like England and Spain are struggling.

"Spain’s result surprised me. You have to play all the games as if they are the final. It’s true that mentally that will cost them whereas we can now concentrate on the next round.

“We have to stay on our toes. I have to enjoy my hat-trick but not get ahead of myself. We played a beautiful game. It feels great to be top scorer at a World Cup so far, but nothing is won. We have to work hard, with cold blood.”

Argentina’s first goal owed more to clumsy defending and lack of concentration than their eye-catching dribbling and intricate close quarters passing in front of the box that followed.

Messi delivered from the left wing and Martin Demichelis flew in to head, but misjudged, and the ball hit the shin of Park Chu-young.

The Korean striker made good contact, flashing the deflection past keeper Jung Sung Ryong, and settle Maradona’s side into a rhythm that unlocked the skills of Messi and Tevez in particular in attack, while defensively, at times, vulnerability nagged.

If the first goal demonstrated that a bit of luck is also required, Argentina’s second showed they have an aerial threat to go with their ground war. Messi changed the angle of attack from a corner and handed Liverpool’s Maxi Rodriguez the chance to cross.

Sub Nicolas Burdisso, on for the injured Walter Samuel, flicked the cross deep and Higuain planted his header past the flapping keeper, to make up for his missed chances in the opener against Nigeria. “Luckily the ones that didn’t go in against Nigeria went in today,” he added. “But we have to keep a cool head.”

That should have sewn up the match, and left Maradona’s men coasting towards half-time. That theory never holds with Argentina’s defence, however. A punt up field by Jung was met with a well won header by own goal villain Park Chu-young.

Demichelis should have dealt with the danger easily but dallied, allowing Bolton striker Lee Chung-yong to finish and give the Koreans hope.

But Messi’s brilliance snuffed them out . The 22-year-old collected the ball on the halfway line, turned and exchanged passes with Aguero before surging forward. He was first denied by the boot of keeper Jung, then he hit the rebound off the post which Higuain tapped in into an empty net.

Higuain then completed his short range hat-trick, with Messi once again the architect. Messi stood on the edge of the area and scooped an audacious pass over the defence, for Aguero, on for Tevez, to cross. Higuain had the simple task of knocking home.

Maradona needs to keep dishing out the love.

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