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Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina celebrates after scoring his side's second goal against South Korea. ((Michael Steele/Getty Images))

Gonzalo Higuain recorded the first hat trick of the 2010 World Cup on Thursday to guide Argentina to a 4-1 win over South Korea in Johannesburg.

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The main story line

Who needs Lionel Messi when you have Gonzalo the Great?

Higuain emerged as the star of this competition, becoming the first player to score three goals in a game. The Real Madrid striker now has five goals in seven international matches for Argentina, a startling record when you consider it took him a while to be called up by the national team.

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Higuain has it all — breakneck speed, sublime dribbling skills and a piledriver of a shot. He's also as versatile as he is deadly in front of the goal, able to play either as a target man, a deep-lying forward or out on the right wing.

But he declined an invitation to play for his country at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, landing him in Argentina's doghouse.

Little wonder Diego Maradona didn't roll out the red carpet for Higuain when he took over as national team manager in October 2008. But with his team in real danger of missing out the World Cup, Maradona finally broke down and called up Higuain with two games remaining in the South American qualifiers — two games that Argentina had to win in order to ensure qualification.

Higuain wasted little time, scoring in his debut on Oct. 11, 2009, in a 2-1 win over Peru, and playing a key role in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Uruguay in Montevideo three days later.

The Real Madrid hit-man is now making up for lost time, and if he continues this torrid scoring pace, Argentina could claim its third World Cup title.

The winning goal

Higuain padded Argentina's lead in the 33rd minute with a goal that resembled a game of head tennis. Maxi Rodriguez chipped a cross into the box for Nicolas Burdisso, who expertly nodded the ball into the path of Higuain. The Real Madrid striker was in the perfect position to finish off the sequence, heading the ball home from six yards out.

Turning point of the game

Higuain's second goal in the 76th minute gave Argentina a 3-1 lead that put the game out of reach. Messi skipped into the box and forced a save from South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong. Messi's rebound attempt hit the post and landed at the feet of Higuain who scored on an easy tap in from two yards out.

What this result means

Argentina sits alone in first place in Group B with six points. South Korea and Greece are tied for second (three points), while winless Nigeria picks up the rear.

South Korea meets Nigeria in its last game of the group stage, while Greece faces Argentina.

Argentina can clinch a second-round berth with a draw against Greece. South Korea or Greece would qualify for the round of 16 if one team wins and the other fails to earn three points.

Nigeria needs to beat South Korea and hope Argentina beats Greece in order to keep its faint World Cup hopes alive.

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Man of the match

Who else could it be but Higuain?

Goal of the match

Higuain's first goal was the product of a pretty passing sequence that saw the Argentines demonstrate great technical ability.

Save of the match

Angel Di Maria should have made it 3-0 for Argentina in the 40th minute when his half-volley seemed destined to tuck inside the net. But South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong made a beautiful save, tipping the ball over the crossbar to deny the Argentine.

The Argentine perspective

"I'm very happy to score the goals, but we have to think of the team as a whole." — Gonzalo Higuain

The South Korean perspective

"I didn’t expect us to lose by such a large margin, but everything will go down to the final group game. We didn't play well and Argentina did. They got a slice of luck with their first goal whereas we weren’t able to take our chances. This defeat is a great lesson and we must learn from it when we play against Nigeria." — coach Huh Jung Moo

Next up

South Korea takes on Nigeria in Durban on June 22 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET), while Argentina meets Greece on the same day in Polokwane (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).