Sunday, June 27, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: June 28, 11:58 AM UK
Maradona myth continues
John Brewin, Soccer City Stadium
A losing team wronged while the winners streak away with victory as their opponents look to injustice as reason for their downfall. To happen once in a day was bad enough. Twice in a matter of hours is bordering on careless. Sunday's worst has thrown further bad light on FIFA's luddite attitude to the idea of video replays and goal-line technology. They have some explaining to do.
• Argentina 3-1 Mexico: Tevez on target
• Aguirre rues fatal errors
• Tevez delighted with brace
• Maradona rejects injustice claims
• Mexico Blog: Night of refs
The governing body may draw some solace from the fact that South Africa 2010's great entertainers remain in the competition. Yet Argentina's defeat of Mexico was in no way fluid, their flourishes much rarer than in their group-stage showings, though still of a quality to make an Englishman - and one uncertain Italian - weep in jealousy.
The vanquished North Americans, like their fellow second-round departees, can point to one incident as a likely game-changer but must also accept culpability for their exit. As with England, there will be no trip to sea-level comfort in Cape Town though, quite unlike the unloved rabble heading for Heathrow, this was a tournament of some progress for Mexico, even if it did end in the usual second round departure. Argentina are set to be reunited with the Germans once more, to evoke some happy memories for their maniacal manager of his annus mirabilis.
After the Bloemfontein massacre there will be no battle royale for Diego Maradona to raise with the English and no need to stir up the ides of '86. The verbal volleys will now be aimed at the Germans, as memories of another day in the Azteca 24 years ago can be recounted - the final of Mexico '86 itself.
However, there are also the bitter agonies of Rome in 1990 to recollect and for many of Maradona's players, another issue of footballing vengeance - for the bad blood of Berlin four years ago. Then, as now, Argentina's early-tournament form had them as the fantasist's favourite only for them to be stopped in their tracks in classic Germanic style - on penalties - before the post-match salutations turned into a near-riot. The return bout, at the same quarter-final stage, takes place on Saturday.
Prior to this latest visit to Soccer City, revenge for 2006 was also in the air for the Mexicans. Leipzig played host to possibly the best game of the last finals and only a wonderful Maxi Rodriguez goal could separate the two back then. This time, there were even shades of 1978 when the teams took to a pitch strewn with tickertape. But memories did not need to stretch that far back. In a sad echo of what went on in the afternoon, a poor decision that could easily been solved by the use of television shifted the very focus of this game.
Mexico had made their usual bright start, and the Argentine groove was lacking its usual swing when, in the 26th minute, Carlos Tevez bundled the ball home rather against the run of play. Replays revealed he had been offside when the ball had been played to him, yet referee Roberto Rosetti had awarded a goal and pointed to the centre circle.
Usually, despite protestations, the protocol is to play to the whistle but the Italian official's position was made untenable by the fact that the TV evidence of a clear offside was played to the entire stadium. An embarrassing mistake by stadium staff, possibly fearing for their continuing employment, and now all knew this was not a valid goal. But the referee knew that any reverse of his initial decision was strictly prohibited as the use of videos to decide matters is ludicrously still banned by the governing body. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't, Rosetti is set for Mexican tabloid infamy after he again pointed to a restart from the centre.
The injured party had good reason to gnash teeth at the obtuse nature of it all but, just like England, Mexico followed injustice with ineptitude. Seven minutes after the farce, Gonzalo Higuain was allowed to waltz through and score the second after Ricardo Osorio's glaring error. Mexican ire continued into the half-time break when members of each team's staff began an unseemly scrap behind the dug-outs. It was made clear that this strange game was further lapsing into oddity status when Maradona was seen playing peacemaker.
The contest was eventually ended by Carlos Tevez's bullet of a strike on 52 minutes as Argentina's players, having looked uncomfortable about their first, headed for the sidelines to hug their tactile coaching staff. The most grapplesome bearhug was shared by Tevez and Maradona. Unlike some teams that could be mentioned, this Argentine team clearly like each other and are happy to share success.
A note of caution: they are yet to be tested in any sustained fashion, though the Germans will surely provide just that. This is an Argentina team that plays in the image of its manager, on the very edge of controlled emotion. That is clearly Maradona's method - to wind up his team into the very throes of passion. No-one, despite Mexico's early ascendancy here, has yet pricked the romance with reality; there is still a question about the real Argentina, their defending of slim leads and their ability to change up when something has gone against them.
Javier Hernandez's well-taken strike may have been mere consolation in the 71st minute but it was instructive of a soft centre to a defence still lacking the strength of Walter Samuel. And some of Mexico's fast-breaking interplay bore resemblance to that the Germans had earlier displayed, though it lacked the clinical finishing of Herren Klose, Podolski and Muller.
Nevertheless, Argentine progress was secured, if not in ugly fashion but in fits and starts and without there even being much need to call on their No.10 for inspiration. Lionel Messi did not see as much of the ball as in the three group games and his now-habitual near-miss came late on when a shot crashed from the Mexican bar. Like Wayne Rooney he is still yet to score in South Africa but unlike the Englishman against whom comparison will surely now be roundly mocked, he will have further chances to notch. And, unlike Rooney, he has a team of all the talents - in the attacking sense at least - to take on the burden should he fall short. The outstanding Tevez and the predatory Higuain are the type of players to be coveted. They are clearly cherished by their coach.
The Maradona myth continues, and this time he didn't even need to supply the controversy.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Carlos Tevez. He's never a man to enjoy playing second fiddle and this was a game in which he was his country's gold-plated matchwinner. The first goal was dubious to say the least but his second was blessed with power and precision. Tournament teams need men for the big occasion and Tevez proved to be one here.
ARGENTINA VERDICT: Less fluid than before but also showing the ability to win when not playing well, Argentina now have the chance to go further than they have since their coach hung up his boots. Messi's comparative anonymity was atoned for by another all-action showing by the selfless Tevez.
MEXICO VERDICT: Disappointment and some anger will follow yet another exit at the second round. However, there has been much to admire about their World Cup. Manchester United fans may be drooling at the finishing of Javier Hernandez while Carlos Salcido - who hit the bar here - has been one of the best attacking full-backs of the tournament. A pleasure to watch and some sympathy must go to them.
GETTING TETCHY? Whinges about organisation are ten-a-penny at any place full of journalists but there are some weary-looking folk around and some press-box bust-ups were in evidence. They came largely as a result of the chaotic guidance of the volunteers who guide hacks to their seats. Pointing vaguely in the direction of an area does not signify giving directions. Letting interlopers wander into vacant seats hardly helps either.