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.
06-25-2006, 10:54 PM
Mexico in misery after Argentina assault
Leipzig, June 25: Thousands of Argentine football fans celebrated their team's knock-out victory against Mexico in the German city of Leipzig on Saturday night.
In a dramatic match they saw the tournament favourites beat Mexico in extra time by a score of two goals to one.
After the match, fans from both camps mingled without problems as they left the stadium with no incidents reported.
The atmosphere was peaceful with Argentines singing and dancing on their way back into the city centre.
Most Mexico fans took the defeat in stride but some bitterly predicted that Argentina would face a tougher contest in the next round.
"Against Germany, Argentina will go out," said one Mexican fan.
Most Argentines, on the other hand, were convinced that very little now stands in the way of Argentina winning the World Cup for the third time.
"Against Germany we will win, also against Brazil. We are world champions," said one 'Gaucho' fan in an Argentina shirt.
Argentina will face hosts Germany in a quarterfinal clash in Berlin on June 30.
06-25-2006, 11:03 PM
Good times roll in Argentina
Sun Jun 25, 2006 6:04 AM IST
By Fiona Ortiz
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Celebrating Argentines poured into the rain-splashed avenues, screaming, singing, dancing, blowing horns and setting off firecrackers after their team secured a 2-1 World Cup win over Mexico on Saturday.
The team's performance is in keeping with the mood of a nation which is starting to feel good about itself again.
Four years ago Argentina's economy collapsed and its adored soccer team had its worst World Cup performance in years, failing to make it out of the group round.
But things are different this time. Argentines have renewed confidence as their economy surges and to keep the good times rolling, their side won 2-1 in extra time against Mexico on Saturday, moving into the quarter-finals.
"Spectacular. It was the best game. Mexico doesn't exist," said Emanuel Wyberg, 24, a clothing shop employee banging on an empty five-gallon water jug in celebration.
"Euphoric, happy. I never lost faith," shouted an emotional Matias Brie, 16, a student running down the confetti-strewn street with friends, celebrating after the game.
"Argentina is a team of love and passion," he said, almost choking as he spoke. "We won in '78, we won in '86. We'll win again."
But other fans remained cautious, since Argentina faces hosts Germany in a quarter-final match in Berlin on Friday.
"Now we have to go up against Germany, it could get complicated," said Silvana Castro, 20, a cashier at a downtown shop, who joined street celebrations.
Mexico had taken an early lead after only six minutes before Argentina equalised four minutes later in the game played in the eastern German city of Leipzig.
It took a spectacular goal by midfielder Maxi Rodriguez eight minutes into extra time to settle one of the best games of the tournament so far.
Miguel Angel Fontana, a 50-year-old taxi driver trying to get his cab through the streets choked with partying teenagers, said Argentines should not let the euphoria blind them to the high levels of poverty that persist in the South American nation.
"Let's not forget in all this happiness that there are kids around here dying of hunger and youths without work, without a future," he said.
(Additional reporting by Cesar Illiano)
06-26-2006, 12:17 AM
Argentina let their feet do the talking
By Rick Broadbent
Argentina 2 Mexico 1
(aet; 1-1 after 90min)
TWENTY YEARS AFTER ARGENTINA revealed a cynical vein by beating England with a handball from an ineligible deity, it is the feet of little demigods that are quickstepping all over centre stage at the World Cup. A cursory glance at their dugout on Saturday, where Lionel Messi, Pablo Aimar and Carlos Tévez waited to do their bit against Mexico, defined their silk and style. That was not a bench, it was a chaise longue.
By the end there was a raft of new Maradonas on the pitch and the old one in the stands. It is scarcely any wonder that the genius of 1986 should be in thrall to a team of such luminous creativity, but Mexico departed knowing that they had exposed a weakness in the nascent favourites and Germany, Argentina’s next opponents, will be encouraged.
Indeed, Jared Borgetti, bit-part in Bolton but big name in Guadalajara, felt that his team had been victimised. His grouse concerned the moment in the first half when Gabriel Heinze felled José Fonseca as he nipped the ball past him. Massimo Busacca, the referee, judged that Roberto Ayala had been covering and showed only a yellow card. “For Fifa and the World Cup, it is more important to see Argentina in the quarter-finals than countries like Mexico,” Borgetti said. “It is always the referee. Pah!”
In the light of the knee-jerk responses of his peers, the Swiss referee was right to deem the evidence inconclusive. Hernán Crespo countered that Argentina have had three goals disallowed in their games, including the stoppage-time tap-in from Messi ruled out wrongly for offside. But this match rose above its grievances. It is often difficult for us in Britain to comprehend the link between art and sport, but this was a poetic game. When Gerardo Torrado replaced Pavel Pardo for Mexico, even the substitutes rhymed.
Mexico were wonderful, despite Rafael Marquez’s assertion that a second-round exit constituted failure. They tried to outplay Argentina and nearly pulled it off, reasoning that Marquez and Ricardo Osorio, the centre backs, would deal with the fallout. They did, too. Marquez has been magnificent all tournament, while there has not been a finer performance at the World Cup than the one Osorio produced in Leipzig. Marquez started the magic. Mario Méndez flicked on a free kick from Pardo and the Barcelona man slid in at the far post to finish. The goal hinted at the flaw in the Argentina make-up, José Peckerman, their coach, admitting: “We have to sort out our problems with high balls.”
The equaliser was quick. Crespo claimed it — “I swear” — and Fifa gave it to him, but everyone else saw Borgetti head into his own net from Juan Román Riquelme’s corner. Thereafter, it was a treat. Crespo lobbed over the goalkeeper and wide, a header by Fonseca sailed past a post, Oswaldo Sánchez parried from Javier Saviola.
A breathtaking match was epitomised by Tévez, who has a horribly scarred neck as the result of an accident with a boiling kettle when ten months old. He has rejected surgery because he says that he wants to stay true to himself. There is nothing cosmetic about Argentina’s flair and grace, no vanity or showboating. It has a purpose and the beauty runs deep.
Take the winner in extra time. Maxi Rodriguez chested Juan Sorín’s crossfield pass and sent a coruscating left-foot volley into the top corner from 25 yards. Afterwards, he said that Mexico had forced Argentina into an open game. While that sounds like suicide, it worked and the new Germany will no doubt try the same.
“We need to improve,” Crespo said. God, via his hand or otherwise, help the rest.
06-26-2006, 11:47 PM
THE GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT
By Chris Hammer
In every World Cup there is one game that stands out from the rest.
In 1998 it was Holland's thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina, won by Dennis Bergkamp's touch of genius at the death.
Four years ago it was arguably South Korea's controversial yet sensational triumph over Italy which sent the host nation into pandemonium.
This time Argentina and Mexico provided us with one of the most absorbing games of football ever seen on this stage.
It was one of those idealistic matches from our dreams, crammed full of drama and controversy, a spirited underdog pushing the giants all the way and a truly spectacular goal worthy of winning any game - even the World Cup final itself.
And as for the Mexicans and Argentines in the stands, they both created one of the greatest carnival atmospheres ever seen as Leipzig's World Cup stadium was lit up by passionate singing and bouncing for 120 long yet joyous minutes.
The performance of Los Tricolores may not have earned them a priceless passage into the quarter-finals but it did win them millions of admirers all over the world as they relentlessly took the game to their more illustrious opponents.
There was not one occasion where it looked as if they would settle for extra-time and penalities which many a country have done in the past.
Mexico decided against the ultra defensive policy, which would have frustrated the flamboyant South Americans, but instead opted to attack with vigor, flair, tenacity and courage.
They believed they could be triumphant and upset the odds but although there was to be no fairytale ending, they can fly back home with their heads held high, knowing they took part in what will probably be remembered as the best game in this summers' finals.
For Argentina they survived the sternest test of their World Cup quest so far and quite possibly the toughest of those which lie in wait.
Having fallen behind to Rafael Marquez' fine opening goal after just five minutes, the Argentines bounced back soon after to cap off an explosive start when Jared Borgetti's unfortunate header found the back of his own net even though Hernan Crespo ran off claiming it.
From that moment on, although there was not be another goal until extra-time, the global audience were treated to an exhibition of tireless and energetic football, free flowing end-to-end play and dazzling skills.
Gerardo Torrado, Ricardo Osorio and Marquez stood out in their green shirts but it was very much a team effort as they fought Argentina for every ball in midfield and forced their defence into overdrive.
However, the fact the South Americans were able to bring on Carlos Tevez, Pablo Aimar and Lionel Messi from the bench just emphasises the rich vein of quality which runs deep in their squad and ultimately it was to prove to much to handle.
Eight minutes into extra-time, Maxi Rodriguez controlled Juan Pablo Sorin's cross-field pass on his chest before rifling and incredible volley into the top left corner of Oswaldo Sanchez's goal.
It was one of those moments which will be forever etched into World Cup history and as much as it left Mexico feeling deflated, there is probably no better way to exit such a stage.
As fatigue eventually started to kick in, Ricardo La Volpe's side couldn't muster a decisive killer touch to take the game into a penalty shoot-out and after all the passion and emotion they brought to the finals, it is such a shame to wave them goodbye.
But despite all of Mexico's heroics, Jose Pekerman's side are fully deserving of their place in the quarter-finals and with the fantastic Juan Riquelme dictating midfield, it will take a Herculean effort from even Brazil to stop their fierce rivals lifting football's greatest prize on July 9.
06-27-2006, 12:16 AM
Maxi result, minimum fuss
by: Bren O'Brien in Germany
Amid a squad of Argentine superstars, it would be easy to forget Maxi Rodriguez.
Coming into the World Cup, the Atletico Madrid midfielder had scored just three goals in 13 games for his country. But while many were expecting this was the World Cup where Lionel Messi, already feted as the next Maradona, and Carlos Tevez would explode on to the world stage, it was an unfashionable 25-year-old who propelled Argentina into the quarter finals.
Rodriguez had already scored twice in Germany, knocking two home in the first half against Serbia and Montenegro, but his 98th minute winner against Mexico will ensure he is the man whose name is on everybody's lips in Germany.
From about three yards outside the box, he chested a volley and finished superbly to all but end the stubborn Mexican resistance. It was as well taken as Joe Cole's effort against Sweden, and as beautiful as the 'miracle of 24-passes' finished off by compatriot Esteban Cambiasso in that Serbian match. What it had in deference to those two, was a sense of occasion. This was the extra-time goal that saved Argentina the blushes of a second round exit.
Argentina has claims to be the most-talented side at this tournament, with names like Riquelme, Saviola, Crespo, Messi, Tevez and Ayala, but Rodriguez has given it a real edge, the ability to finish.
Rodriguez is only unfashionable because he has never been one for the big clubs. Coming from Newell's Old Boys, a distant third behind Boca Juniors and River Plate in Argentine football, he joined Barcelona's second club, Espanyol in 2002. As if to continue the unfashionable theme, he joined Madrid's other team, Atletico, last year.
But fashion and fame mean nothing when you can finish like Maxi Rodriguez. Germany beware.