Ole' Ole' Argentina.
Fifa World Cup - Germany 2006
Times Online June 24, 2006
Argentina 2 Mexico 1 (aet)
By Rob Hughes
A goal stunning in its beauty and worth a place in the pantheon of great finishes separated Argentina and Mexico after 97 minutes of impassioned equality on a night so sultry and so typically Latin it was easy to forget we were on German soil.
The pass from Juan Sorin that picked out Maxi Rodriguez, loitering with intent on the far side of the pitch, the right edge of the penalty box, was itself a gem. But when Rodriguez took it on the chest, then swayed inside his marker, there was one thing only on his mind: be the hero.
His left foot volley rose in an arc over the outstretched right hand of Oswaldo Sanchez, and a goalkeeper who buried his father, then answered his father's wish to fly back to the World Cup, was beaten by an act close to godliness.
There are hidden dimensions to this most captivating of World Cups, and one of theme was last night’s Pacion Unica, a real Latin American passion play transported to Leipzig.
People, not places, make passion and this one came straight out of the Americas. The Mexicans are a curious football race because when they play the United States, they are invariably cowed; when they play the big guns of South America, they believe their skills and their heart to be comparable.
And so for more than an hour it was. The tempo was electric, the Mexican desire to take the game to Argentina nullified some of that breathtaking, almost arrogant control that had made Argentina the most hypnotic side of the first round.
But here, in a stadium dressed in Mexican and Argentinian flags and banners in equal numbers around the oval bowl, was that different dimension. It had wiles, and cunning, and bite. It had a sell out crowd of 43,000 who somehow to a man, woman and child were committed one way or the other. It had a Swiss-Italian referee who often just let the players get on with conning one another because, clearly Massimo Busacca understands the theatre of the Latin game.
And it had an extra side show, Jose Pekerman, the man promoted from youth trainer to Argentina senior coach along with players he had nurtured, in contrast to Ricardo La Volpe, the coach to Mexico. Born in Buenos Aires, and the third goalkeeper in Argentina’s 1978 World Cup triumph, he has crossed a taboo by moving to Mexico. Rugged, moustachioed, he stands on the touchline, one tough hombre. His hands on his hips, the jacket thrown back, the jeans and tie fitting for the 1950s, he seems to stare without emotion. But if something displeases him, he explodes. Something delights him? We haven’t seen that yet.
But one sure thing is Senor La Volpe knows how to set up a side to test the nerve and sinew of his countrymen.
The first element is fearlessness. Take them on, get behind the space that Juan Sorin, the driving force and captain of Argentina, inevitably leaves behind him. Test Argentina in the air, where neither the keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri is commanding, nor his central defenders Gabriel Heinze and Roberto Ayala particularly tall.
The Mexicans have height. Big Sam Allardyce may have doubts about Jared Borgetti but when he is up for the contest, when the opponent is in sky blue stripes, the man is a menace in the air. His header, craftily flicked on with the back of his crown, created the early goal for Barcelona’s Rafael Marquez. And several times more Borgetti had the beating of either Heinze or Ayala.
It is intriguing how some men grow in esteem and in every way when they play for their nations, whereas others (England please note) have a tendency to be diminished in their country’s cause. Borgetti, emphatically, is a different creature when he wears the green shirt - and you see it from the national anthem onwards.
Juan Riquelme, too, is twice as confident, and twice the creative hub for Argentina that we often see him for Villarreal. Javier Saviola, too, grows immeasurably for the nation. But none of them grows taller than Maxi Rodriguez.