Gonzalo Higuain struck the first hat-trick of the FIFA World Cup as Argentina spanked South Korea 4-1 in a Group B match to seal a berth in the knock-out round in Johannesburg on Thursday .
Two-time champions Argentina produced another dominating performance after their 1-0 victory over Nigeria in their campaign opener to book a place in the round of 16 though Lionel Messi was still in search of his first goal in the mega event.
Real Madrid striker Higuain struck in the 33rd, 76th and 80th minutes after South Korean Park Chu-Young gave the South Americans the lead with an own goal in the 17th minute. Lee Chung-Yong took advantage of a mistake in the Argentine defence to score for South Korea in the one minute added time in the first half.
With the win, Argentina topped Group B with two wins while South Korea will have to beat Nigeria in their last group match on June 26 in Durban if they have to qualify for the knockout phase.
Argentina made one change from their squad which beat Nigeria 1-0 by drafting in Liverpool midfielder Maxi Rodrigues in place of Juan Sebastian Veron and they dictated terms on the South Koreans with overwhelming ball possession.
Diego Maradona's boys kept the ball in the South Korean half for most part of the match with strikers Carlos Tevez and Higuain, and Messi playing behind the duo creating havoc at the South Korean defence time and again.
To the credit of the 'Taegeuk Warriors' under former World Cupper Huh Jung-moo, they did not concede too many openings to the 'La Albiceleste' in the first 45 minutes at the packed Soccer City Stadium.
Argentina made most of their attacks from the left side with Tevez and Da Maria combining in tandem and Messi making his usual mesmerising runs cutting through the South Korean box.
The wave of attacks from the technically far superior Argentines proved too much for the South Koreans who began the match with a defensive formation and Park Chu-Young gave the South Americans the lead with an own goal in the 17th minute.
A Messi free-kick 30 metre from the goal on the left side of the box flew over a leaping Argentine defender Demichelis before the ball deflected into the net off the right leg of Chu-Young.
Argentina extended the lead when Maxi Rodriguez's cross was flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, who substituted Walter Samuel in the 23rd minute, for Higuan to beat South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong in the 33rd minute. But Lee pounced on a mistake by centre-back Martin Demichelis to fire home a minute into extra time.
Down 1-2 at the breather, South Korea dished out an improved performance in the second half and they could have restored parity in the 64th minute but Kihun's left-footer went wide with only Argentine goalkeeper to beat after he was nicely set up by his captain Park Ji Sung.
The occasional attacks from the South Koreans notwithstanding, the Argentines took the game out of their reach with Higuain scoring twice in a space of four minutes.
Messi, the World Footballer of the Year, cut through the South Korean box after getting the better of two defender before his left-footer hit the left upright and a lurking Higuan had all the time in the world to slam the ball home and round off the tally. PTI