Monday, June 26, 2006

Mexico push the Argies all the way!

Argentina 2-1 Mexico a.e.t

As the two teams walked out onto the pitch a few thoughts crossed my mind. As I sat looking at the two teams walking out, one who had put on some wondrous performances in the group stage (Argies) and the other who had scraped through a weak group (Mexico), I sat there reminding myself that what had transpired earlier was practically irrelevant. The dream was now. Regardless of what had gone before anything could happen. Mexico could have the game of their lives, they could score a scrappy winner, Argentina could implode. This was one performance with the winner moving on, the loser going home. Shocks can easily happen because it is 90 minutes of 11 men against another 11 men.

Before the game did anyone seriously believe Mexico would progress? At the group stages they scraped past Iran, were unable to score against Angola, and lost to a Portugal side resting 5 of their key men. They had missed a penalty, conceded a penalty, they were profligate in front of goal and they looked a little devoid of heart. Everyone on the other hand had been raging about Argentina, about Cambiasso's perfect world cup goal as representative of the 'total football', about the 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro, and about their strength in depth.

Despite all this Argentina required extra-time and a wonder goal to achieve a quarter-final date with the hosts. It was an even game with much fluidity, although after an initial flurry of chances they were soon at a premium.

Argentina were immediately put on the back foot, conceding early corners and looking like they didn't know what had hit them. This was highlighted further when the opening goal went the way of Mexico as the defence didn't pick out Marquez drifting unmarked round the back. However they weren't behind for long. A corner kick was poked home by Crespo although there is a debate as to whether it was he, or Borgetti who got the final touch, perhaps a combination of both? The official stats give it to Crespo I think, possibly in order to spare the Mexican's blushes and to allow more competition for the golden shoe rather than an actual belief it was Crespo who got the decisive touch! Crespo came close again as he lobbed Sanchez but the ball ultimately drifted harmlessly wide. Again they looked weak at the back as Scaloni and Heinze in particular were uncomfortable. The final moments of the first half ended in huge controversy. Abbondanzieri rolled the ball out to Heinze who slipped and allowed Fonseca what seemed to be a clear run on goal until he felled the Mexican forward. The rules state that any offence punishable by a free kick that prevents a clear goalscoring opportunity should be punished by a red card. All but the referee seemed to see it this way as Heinze escaped with a yellow. He perhaps believed that the Argentinian man on the right had a chance to move across and present a challenge to Fonseca. In most eyes though, a red should have resulted. In the second half Saviola was foiled by Sanchez and Abbondanzieri was also very useful in the Argentinian goal, but petty fouls and a slower pace creeped into this fascinating encounter. Riquelme did not quite look at his best either.

Tevez and Messi were introduced at the 75th and 84th minutes respectively, Messi celebrating his nineteenth birthday. There is much debate in Argentina as to whether these two should start ahead of Saviola and Crespo. It is a great problem to have as all 4 are excellent strikers. I perhaps think they should have been introduced earlier. At this world cup Tevez, in particular, has been quite sublime at times. Pekerman's ability to bring these two gamebreakers on would seem to give Argentina the edge. These two did at one point combine to score but the offside decision was (wrongfully) made.

Extra time saw the wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez finally settle the affair as he controlled on his chest before thundering in a looping volley. The goal was well worthy of separating the two sides and the Argies held on for victory.

Mexico started the game at great tempo, and looked good for their early advantage. For the first time in the tournament the favoured front two pairing during the qualifying campaign of Borgetti and Fonseca was employed. Borgetti was a constant menace having a few headers and testing Abbondanzieri with a good effort from distance. Marquez's goal was taken like a centre forward, and he was impressive throughout the match. Their inspirational captain was not enough to finally give them the spoils though. Mexico looked so much better than they did at the group stage and can consider themselves a little unlucky to be going home. They nearly proved their world ranking was not a result of the vagaries of FIFA's system but because they are actually damn good! Sanchez did very well in goal also and Salcido really impressed. Mexico can at least go home very proud of their efforts.

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