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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Recap of final day of Group A, B play

By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com

Groups A and B wrapped up play Monday. Here's how it happened and what its repercussions for the round of 16 are.

While South Africa beat a disheveled French side -- one that made the world wince with its play -- in Group A, it fell short of the near miracle it needed to reach the next round, missing out on goal differential. France also is eliminated.

In spite of a fiery start to the contest, Uruguay and Mexico -- suddenly cognizant that the score was beneficial to both teams -- basically stopped playing after Luis Suarez made it 1-0 to the South Americans. That means that Uruguay wins Group A and that Mexico is runner-up.

Over in Group B, Argentina was the better side against Greece but, just as in its opening game against Nigeria, struggled to finish. But despite playing just four of its regular starting lineup, Argentina continued gaining momentum with a win to end a perfect qualifying campaign. Though its finishing touch was frequently lacking or devoid of luck -- see: Messi, Lionel -- it was never in danger of losing the game.

Between Nigeria and South Korea, a game that will be remembered more for things done poorly than those done well, South Korea stuck it out through a barrage of simple chances for Nigeria that should have won the Super Eagles the match, as well as the runner-up spot in the group. Without any sort of discernable system, the Nigerians mustered only a 2-2 draw against a South Korean team that, like Nigeria, scored only soft goals but did lean on strong organization for most of the game.

With that result, South Korea finished as runner-up to Argentina in Group B, knocking out Greece and Nigeria.

As such, Uruguay will face South Korea in Port Elizabeth on Saturday (10 a.m. ET). The Uruguayans looked strong in all three of their matches, even the 0-0 draw to France in their opener. In Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay fields a potent trio of attackers (though the last hasn't performed to his peak thus far).

What's more, Uruguay is an unpopular opponent because of its physical play. Against Mexico, the Uruguayans dominated play by outrunning and outmuscling their opponents. They'll be looking to do much the same thing against South Korea, a team that relies on its organization but that won't be able to match Uruguay's physicality if the South Americans can play to their own strengths.

South Korea struggled to keep up with the quick Nigerians and is probably the least deserving of the four teams that reached the second round Tuesday -- seeing as it played only one good game, its opener against a very bad Greece, in which its players were tidy on the ball and efficient with their chances.

On Sunday, Mexico will face Argentina at Johannesburg's Soccer City (2:30 p.m. ET). The Mexicans had been impressive in their first few games, finding a way to reconcile the team's brash young attacking prospects with its veterans elsewhere on the pitch. But Mexico's third and final match against Uruguay lacked the dynamism that pact had fostered early on.

Slow, and slowed down further by playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the Mexicans chased the game with little desire and even less effectiveness. It seemed they were clearly satisfied to sit on the 1-0 loss and take the spot in the round of 16. To match up with Argentina, Mexico will have to rediscover its mobility or risk being picked apart by Lionel Messi and Juan Veron.

Veron was splendid against Greece (showing that eccentric coach Diego Maradona can be right sometimes) -- the 35-year-old scattered some impressive crosses across the field. The Argentines' performance against Uruguay makes credible the belief that the squad will be even stronger when he is inserted into the lineup that took South Korea apart.

Argentina will come into its round of 16 matchup with a renewed attacking initiative, and Mexico will have to count on a few good bounces, though never succumb to the temptation of sitting back and hoping for a breakaway goal and a lot of luck.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.