WORLD CUP ROUNDUP: Green blunder costs England; Argentina wins 1-0

JOHANNESBURG — Robert Green’s embarrassing fumble cost England a victory over the United States, a blot on the goalkeepers on day two of the World Cup after Vincent Enyeama’s gallant performance in a Nigerian side which lost 1-0 to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.

Clint Dempsey directed a 25-meter left-foot shot straight at Green in the 40th minute and wasn’t expecting much reward for it, but the ball deflected off the England keeper’s right glove and rolled over the line for the equalizer in a 1-1 draw in the Group C opener.

Argentina had plenty of chances but only managed to convert one of them against Enyeama in a 1-0 win in Group B, putting Diego Maradona’s squad marginally behind South Korea, which opened the day with a 2-0 win over Greece at Port Elizabeth.

After Argentina’s win at Ellis Park, the talk was all about Messi’s sublime skills and Enyeama’s athletic saves, which earned the Nigerian keeper the player of the match award despite being on the losing side.

But the spotlight shifted to Green before half time in the night match, when England let a 1-0 lead and command of the game slip against the underdog Americans.

“That is what you prepare for mentally. You don’t prepare mentally for making great saves and playing the perfect game. You prepare for trauma,” Green was quoted as saying. “It is regrettable and not what you want to happen, but that’s life and you move on. It won’t affect me psychologically.”

England captain Steven Gerrard gave England the lead in the fourth minute, charging into the area and flicking past Tim Howard for his 17th international goal.

“It was a difficult game,” Gerrard said. “I think the important thing in the first game is not to lose.”

Green’s blunder stunned the English sections of fans among the 38,000 crowd at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

“Unfortunately we’ve let a poor goal in and we couldn’t go on and get the winner,” Gerrard said. “The goal shocked us a bit. … It took us a while to get over it.”

Maradona’s first test as a coach at the World Cup was closer than he’d have liked, saying his Argentine players were “too forgiving” and it was almost like they “couldn’t see the goal” against Nigeria.

Gabriel Heinze scored in the sixth minute after taking advantage of slack marking to power in a diving header from 12 meters from Juan Sebastian Veron’s corner.

Gonzalo Higuain missed three chances, including what seemed a certain goal in the fourth minute, and Messi, despite confounding the Nigerians with his speed and superior ball control, went agonizingly close on several occasions.

“Thank God we won the game,” Maradona said. “To begin a World Cup in winning fashion gives you a certain sense of calmness.”

Maradona led Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986 and was almost peerless as a player, but his coaching career so far has been inconsistent. He’s hoping Messi can help him turn that around.

The 22-year-old Barcelona forward “performed magic today on the pitch,” Maradona said. “I want Messi to be very close to the ball … If he is having fun, then we are all going to have fun.”

The World Cup opened on Friday with two draws, with hosts South Africa allowing a late equalizer in a 1-1 result against Mexico and a scoreless outcome between former champions France and Uruguay in Group A.

South Korea registered the first win of the tournament in Saturday’s first match. It was only their second win on foreign soil in eight World Cups.

Lee Jung-soo tapped in unmarked to open the scoring in the seventh minute at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and captain Park Ji-sung doubled the lead in the 52nd with a slick solo goal.

The Manchester United midfielder collected a misplaced pass from Vassilis Torosidis and skipped past two defenders before slipping a shot across goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas.

“If we had been a little bit calmer, we could have had an even better result,” South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo said. “In terms of scoring goals, it could have been a little bit better for us.”South Korea reached the semifinals when it co-hosted the 2002 tournament with Japan and registered a win at Germany 2006.

Greece, in the World Cup for only the second time, made it four consecutive defeats at football’s marquee tournament.

“We really have to get our act together,” coach Otto Rehhagel said. “We’ve got to improve a couple of things and be brave and courageous enough.”

On Sunday, Slovenia and Algeria meet in Group C at Polokwane, followed by Serbia vs. Ghana at Pretoria and Germany vs. Australia at Durban in Group D.

The Associated Press

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