Sunday, 27 June 2010

Controversy and Class as Argentina Progress

Argentina 3 Mexico 1, Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg

Argentina swept into the quarter-finals with another fine attacking display but, just like England Germany earlier in the day, the game didn't pass without controversy.

After the assistant referee inexplicably failed to see that Lampard's shot had crossed the line in the first match of the day, there was further blindness from his counterpart in Johannesburg who neglected to notice that Tevez was yards offside for the first Argentina goal.

There will be increased calls for more use of technology in these big games, and rightly so. What made matters worse in Soccer City was that Tevez's 'goal' was being replayed on the big screen in the stadium so all and sundry could see a mistake had been made. But the referee and his assistant could only stand there admiring their handiwork as by then the decision couldn't be reversed and the goal stood.

An unholy mess.

The assistant referee has two main jobs when the ball is in play. Look down the line for offside and goal-line decisions. Two complete and abject failures today.

The Mexicans were aggrieved and it looked for a minute that there would be a massive dust-up at half-time as the two squads clashed. Unsurprisingly Maradona was at the heart of the melee but sanity prevailed and the Mexicans headed to the dressing room to vent their frustration.

The game had started at some pace and Mexico arguably enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, attacking with purpose and intent. Salcido unleashed a venomous drive from some 30 metres out that he saw crash into the crossbar. Then Andres Guardado was teed up on the edge of the box but his left-foot shot narrowly failed to find the target.

An open game meant plenty of space in midfield and Messi was already looking very comfortable on the ball, collecting from deep and knitting things together in customary fashion. A strong run from the Barca man resulted in a delightful chip that had Perez hastily back-peddling.

Maradona was watching proceedings on the touchline in classic pose - arms folded, hands tucked under his armpits. But it only took the opener from Tevez to see him bounding up and down the touchline in triumph.

It was soon 2 and this time the Mexicans could only blame themselves. Ricardo Osorio limply tried to pass the ball along the edge of his penalty box but only found Higuain, who rounded the keeper and tapped in. The celebrations in the dug-out went up a notch: bear hugs all round for Maradona and co.

The Mexicans were suddenly looking vulnerable and were lucky not to fall further behind before half-time as Messi et al poured forward. First Di Maria smashed a left foot shot goal-bound, forcing a smart save. Then a flowing move ended with Higuain heading wide when he really should have hit the target.

After the mistakes of the first-half, the second half began with a moment of true quality from Tevez. No problems with offside here as he swivelled on the edge of the area and arrowed a screaming shot into the far right corner, away from the despairing dive of Perez. His reward? You guessed it - a manly embrace from his all-action coach.

Still Mexico refused to give up and they found a superb goal of their own. Hernandez spun his man expertly on the edge of the box and fired an unstoppable shot into the top left hand corner.

Game briefly back on but, despite some more Mexican pressure, in truth the game was up after Tevez's wonder goal. And probably before that at half-time. There was still time for Messi to see a shot turned over by Perez. The wait for his first goal of the finals goes on.

Argentina join Uruguay in the next round and what a match they will face: the rampant, youthful Germans in Cape Town on Saturday. If Maradona can stop hugging his players that is.

How they lined up: Romero, Demichelis, Burdisso, Heinze, Otamendi, Di Maria (Gutierrez, 79), Mascherano (Captain), Maxi (Pastore, 87), Higuain, Messi, Tevez (Veron, 69)

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