Rodriguez's stunning strike ends Mexico's run

June 24, 2006

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) -- Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez took aim, took a chance and lifted Argentina into the World Cup quarterfinals.

His soaring volley in the 98th minute Saturday gave Argentina a 2-1 victory over Mexico and put the tournament favorite into the final eight against Germany. The moment of brilliance also ousted hard-luck Mexico at this stage of the World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Rodriguez settled the long cross-field pass from Juan Pablo Sorin on his chest, let it fall and struck it squarely with his left foot from the right corner of the penalty area.

Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez flailed away, but he couldn't stop the shot.

"I had not decided to shoot it, but the ball fell right in front of me," Rodriguez said. "It's one of those shots that can go into the stands or in the goal."

The Argentines, into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1998, weren't too exhausted to celebrate, mobbing Rodriguez after his third goal of the tournament -- and biggest of his life. Still, Argentina had to stave off Mexico for another 22 minutes; there is no sudden death in this World Cup.

At the end, several Mexican players were crying. Mario Mendez kicked the turf at the center of the field, walking glumly for the sideline. Teammate Francisco Fonseca sat nearby, staring up into the stands. Behind him in the far corner, bare-chested Argentina players twirled their shirts in the air, some dropping to their knees to salute their fans -- and each other.

"Truly, it's incredible, a beautiful goal," Rodriguez said.

Next up is a match with Germany in Berlin on Friday night. Argentina and Germany met in the 1986 and 1990 finals, splitting titles.

"We saw them a little," Rodriguez said of Germany's 2-0 win over Sweden earlier Saturday, "but I think Argentina can beat anybody."

Mexico, which last reached the quarterfinals in 1986, has never been beyond that stage. Even coach Ricardo Lavolpe, who was born in Argentina and was a backup goalkeeper on the '78 World Cup winner, could not pull off the upset.

"There's no doubt that, worldwide, people now recognize the kind of soccer we play," Lavolpe said. "Today we played even with Argentina. We showed character and courage."

Until Rodriguez's stunning shot, it was a dead-even game of attrition. Both teams scored early, with Rafael Marquez putting Mexico ahead in the sixth minute and Hernan Crespo equalizing in the 10th. Then they nearly wore each other out.

"The winner is the one who scores the goal," Marquez said, blaming Swiss referee Massimo Busacca for some of his team's problems. "Mexico was pushing for a goal, but that great shot eliminated us.

"There is nothing to feel bad about. Things are as they are, but I'm sad we are out."

The game was only the second matchup in the World Cup between the Latin American powers, and much closer than Argentina's 6-3 win when they last met in the inaugural tournament 76 years ago.

Though Argentina holds a big edge over Mexico in all games played, the three games before this had been settled by one goal or a penalty-kicks shootout. They each won one, and the other was a draw.

"The recent games before have been the same," said Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, who took over the team almost two years ago after winning three world titles with Argentine youth squads.

"Today was no exception. They are two teams that know each other."

Marquez's goal put Argentina behind for the first time in the tournament. Pavel Pardo sent in a free kick from the right side, which Mario Mendez headed across the goalmouth to a sliding Marquez. He knocked the ball over diving keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri.

Argentina tied it four minutes later. Juan Roman Riquelme curled in a corner from the right side, which Jared Borgetti appeared to head into his own goal as he lunged to beat Crespo to the ball. However, the goal was awarded to Crespo.

The goal settled down Argentina, with the game developing a pattern. Mexico, with its defense packed heavily, worked to score on the counterattack, with Argentina probing and trying to keep possession.

Mexico had bad luck in the 38th when Pardo, the team's dead-ball specialist, went off with a right thigh injury and was replaced by Gerardo Torrado.

Argentina's Gabriel Heinze picked up a yellow card a minute into first-half injury time when he lost control of a pass from Abbondanzieri, and then went feet first into Fonseca.

Mexico suffered another injury blow in the 64th when 19-year-old Andres Guardado limped off and was replaced a few minutes later by Gonzalo Pineda.

Lavolpe, who has been under pressure, with some suggesting he should resign, said the injuries hurt, forcing him to make substitutions -- but not tactical ones.

"I think the two injuries slowed us [Guardado and Pardo]," he said. "But that's the way soccer is."