Polokwane: Martin Demichelis and Martin Palermo scored second-half goals on Tuesday to help Argentina beat Greece 2-0 at the World Cup and earn the two-time world champions first place in Group B.
Argentina will play Mexico in the round of 16, while Greece has been eliminated.
Demichelis scored from short range in the 77th minute after his header bounced off Diego Milito and back into his path. Palermo doubled the score in the 89th from a rebound after Greece goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas had saved a shot by Lionel Messi.
Just minutes earlier, Messi’s hard left-foot shot hit the near post.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona made seven changes to the lineup that beat South Korea 4-1 five days earlier.
Captain Javier Mascherano and strikers Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain were all benched. However, Messi did start and he was given the captain’s armband for the first time.
It made Messi, who turns 23 on Thursday, the youngest Argentina captain ever.
Midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron returned after missing the previous game with a right-calf injury.
Only goalkeeper Sergio Romero, Demichelis, midfielder Maxi Rodriguez and Messi have been in on the team for all three of Argentina’s games.
Although their game was less fluent than in previous matches, the two-time world champions dominated the match, espcially in the first half at the 45,000-capacity Peter Mokaba Stadium, where Argentina fans clearly outnumbered their Greek counterparts.
Argentina initially preferred to keep possession instead of pushing to create chances.
The first shot on goal came in the 18th minute when Sergio Aguero picked up a pass by Veron and dribbled past two Greece defenders before his left-foot shot forced Tzorvas into a diving save.
In the next minute, Tzorvas pushed the ball over the crossbar after a 30-meter (yard) attempt by Veron.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Maxi and Messi both saw their powerful shots blocked by the keeper.
Aguero, Veron and Messi were the most active players. Milito was well neutralized by Greece’s five-man defense, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos committed several minor fouls while shadowing Messi and Georgios Samaras was a lonely striker up front.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel had urged his players to produce the “match of their lives” to get a result against Argentina.
However, the 2004 European champions left their defensive tactics in the second half, which soon gave Samaras his team’s first chance, though the Celtic striker shot just wide after entering the penalty area from the left wing.