Argentina emerged triumphant from a match of the highest quality thanks to a truly stunning extra-time goal from Maxi Rodriguez to claim a place in the quarter-finals against hosts Germany.
Mexico had mounted a brave and ambitious challenge but were beaten by a strike
from the Argentina midfielder that is unlikely to be matched by anyone this
Rafael Marquez had rocked the tournament favourites with an early goal for
Mexico only for Jared Borgetti's own goal, under pressure from Hernan Crespo, to
hand Argentina a way back into the match.
What a contest this was. With Argentina's magnificent, flag-twirling fans in
full cry, it was the sort of spectacle that captured the uniqueness of the World
Argentina's build-up play was something to savour. Their movement off the ball
and incisive passing through midfield triangles - the qualities that grabbed the
attention in their first two group matches especially - once more stood out.
Mexico were more direct but extremely effective nonetheless, and they made it
an uncomfortable night in particular for Manchester United's Gabriel Heinze,
playing at centre-back.
With Argentina rated so highly, few would have imagined them falling behind,
fewer still with less than six minutes on the clock.
Pavel Pardo's free-kick from the right touchline was flicked on by Mario
Mendez and with Heinze caught sleeping Barcelona defender Marquez arrived at the
far post to slam the ball past Roberto Abbondanzieri.
No one scored more goals in qualifying than Mexico's Borgetti - 14 all told -
and the Bolton striker constantly menaced Argentina, but it was he who
inadvertently handed the initiative back.
Crespo claimed it as his but it was Borgetti, trying to challenge the Chelsea
player, who met Juan Roman Riquelme's corner with a bullet header into the top
corner of his own net.
Riquelme, so strong on the ball that he just brushes off attempted
challengers, had another impressive game while Esteban Cambiasso produced a
couple of exquisite passes that might have led to goals.
His first was to Crespo who shot on the turn but Mexico captain Marquez had
anticipated brilliantly and blocked him out.
An even better pass then freed Crespo again but, one on one with Oswaldo
Sanchez, he lifted the ball over the Mexican keeper only to see it bounce wide
of the far post.
Mexico were not to be outdone though and Borgetti was unlucky not to score
from 25 yards, his piledriver heading for the top corner before Abbondanzieri
tipped it over.
Heinze, perhaps rusty from his season-long injury lay-off, made another
elementary error and took his eye off a pass from his keeper. Jose Fonseca
nipped in and was felled 25 yards from goal with Heinze fortunate that Roberto
Ayala was close enough to allow Swiss referee Massimo Busacca to produce a
yellow instead of red.
After a tremendous first half there was a more cautious feel to the second but
Mexico's tactics continued to create problems for their opponents.
Borgetti, six yards out, brought a long ball down and hit a snap-shot but
somehow Abbondanzieri managed to parry his strike. His forward partner Fonseca
then had an excellent chance after Gonzalo Pineda nutmegged Lionel Scaloni but
could only head wide.
Riquelme, using his strength to good effect, released Javier Saviola on goal
but his effort with the outside of his right foot was turned aside by Sanchez.
Mexico's hard work continued to frustrate Argentina and Jose Pekerman, seeking
a decisive thrust, sent on Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Aimar - not a
bad trio of substitutes.
Messi, on his 19th birthday, did put the ball in the net in normal time only
for assistant referee Matthias Arnet to raise his flag for offside - a poor
decision as television replays confirmed.
Such a game deserved a winning goal of the very highest quality and there
could have been few better than the one Rodriguez produced eight minutes into
Juan Sorin sent a cross-field pass to the right-hand corner of the penalty
area and the Atletico Madrid midfielder took the ball on his chest before
sending a left-foot volley that soared past Sanchez into the net.
This had been some test for Argentina, but what a way to come up with the