JOHANNESBURG - Give Argentina a two-goal
head start and the result will not be in much doubt, as Mexico
discovered when a dreadful decision and a defensive mistake
smoothed a World Cup quarter-final path for the twice winners.
Surging with the self-confidence Diego Maradona seems able
to transmit directly from the touchline, Argentina found life
absurdly easy for much of a 3-1 win at Soccer City on Sunday.
Still a goal for Lionel Messi would not come - he has now
gone four games playing well without one - but a brilliant
strike from Carlos Tevez, his second of the match, and one from
Gonzalo Higuain showed the days of their dependence on the
impish striker are long gone.
The only real worry for Maradona, if his natural self-belief
allows him any such reflection, will be that his preference for
Nicolas Otamendi at right back and the midfield omission of Juan
Sebastian Veron led to nervous moments in defence.
Not for the first time at this World Cup they looked
vulnerable to a team prepared to get players in behind their
fullbacks and Germany need not feel overawed heading into their
To stand any chance, of course, they cannot afford to give
Argentina the sort of gifts they enjoyed in Johannesburg.
Mexico had looked comfortable from the start, pinging the
ball around and going close when Carlos Salcido smashed a
long-range shot against the bar, only for Tevez to score the
first goal from an offside position which unsettled them.
The Mexican players argued with the referee and his
assistant until they were blue in the face, all to no avail.
If they had shown such concentration in defence they might
have avoided conceding a second but Ricardo Osario made an
inexplicable mistake to let Higuain in for the second.
Argentina had the game won with the third goal soon after
the break but the ease with which Mexico striker Javier
Hernandez got clear to score a fine consolation will have had
Germany's speedy forwards taking notice.
The German defence, of course, will have to contend with an
attack that was once again in devastating form, with Messi, goal
or no goal, at the heart of almost everything they created for
the 60 minutes or so they actually needed to exert themselves.
The story of Argentina at this World Cup has been that if
Tevez does not get you, Higuain, the top scorer with four goals,
If Messi finally joins the scoring party, as he almost did
in bringing a fingertip save from Oscar Perez at the end, it
will take something extraordinary to stop them.
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