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World Cup Diary

LATIN TANGO

GAME 50, ROUND OF 16, JUNE 24, 2006 --LEIPZIG
ARGENTINA 2, MEXICO 1
FINAL / OT

I'm totally rooting for Mexico, but predicting a 3-0 win for Argentina, unfortunately.

2... Look at that! Mexico is on the attack, a couple of near-misses, a corner kick, and the Argentines finally clear it but not for long: Mexico is maintaining early dominance, surprising these guys (and us). And they're showing some good defense. The ref so far is letting the players play. This is Univision's ratings' last lunge at megascores. If Mexico is booted out, the ratings take a little stumble.

6...GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL MEXICO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL MEXICO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL MEXICO!

A free kick from the far side, a header, a left foot, a goal. Astounding. Terrific. Rafael Marquez was the one with the waiting foot.

10...GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL ARGENTINA JUST LIKE THAT! Crespo is taking credid, he did nothing to score it: it was a Mexican own goal, off a corner and Mexico's Jared Borgetti's head.

13... Mexico are unbowed. Their attacks continue. Argentina defends well though as Jared Borgetti, probably trying to make amends, sprints down the far side of the box, shoots, but against an Argentine defender's shins. The Corner is cleared, Mexico maintain possession. They're liking that far side, and it's making Argentina nervous. They're turning the ball over half the times they get it.

17... Crespo is all greased up and ready to fry the Mexican defense though, like this quick flick to his right boot, shot from inside the area for a deflection from a 2-1 score.

An own goal by Mexico, falsely atttributed to Crespo: FIFA likes its streakers, even at the cost of honesty.

19... Argentina are asserting themselves. The Ref is Massimo Busacca of Switzerland, with his crew of Italian-speaking assistants and a Saudi and Jordanian as back-ups. Notice: we've yet to see one of these Arab back-ups refereeing a game on the field. Even FIFA, progenitor of "the beautiful game" and its tolerance-and-friendship sloganeering, has its prejudices.

Mexico should not be looking like they need a second win so early in the first half.

She wants more reason to cheer

23... Crespo just had a silver-platter opportunity as the Mexican keeper rushed him a split second too soon; Crespo lifted the ball over the keeper for a goal-minded lob, but the ball bounced a couple of feet wide of the post.

The early contrasts: Argentina playing the lightningt quick passing, chipping and lobbing game, Mexico going for the breakaways, the impressive speeds down the wings and the longish passes, without too much hesitation when they get their chance at goal, like this wonderful pivot and slam by Jared Borgetti inside the Argentine penalty-box arc, forcing an all-out save by the keeper and a Mexican corner. But that ends in the keeper's hands.

29... Very interesting stretch of 90 seconds here, first with a well-crafted Argentinian attack, but then a Mexican counter that takes a page out oif Argentina's book, goes short-passes all the way, resulting in a firce kick deflected for a corner, but that ends in a harmless goal kick for Argentina. Argentina is not dictating play: the match is even at this point.

34... Argentina again find the box and try those lob-like attempts at goal, but Mexico so far forbidding the cuteness from resulting in a score-line deuce.

Nice bit of diving by an argentine player inside the Mexican half, pays off, free kick Argentina, a big clownish bounce, Mexico back on the ball. And another fabulous cross by Mexico that the Argentine keeper can't quite handle, but the scramble in the box goes Argentine's way. They're doing the wave in Leipzig--where, as we all know, the wave was born two centuries ago, when the congregation went nuts from all those wonderful Bach cantatas. The churches' rectangular shapes made for interesting wave patterns back then, just like Bach's contrapuntal melodies.

Fortunately for us, the hand-job of god has yet to make his obnoxious appearance on camera in this game. He must be conferencing with his pushers. Or Rush Limbaugh.

38... Already a substitution... Borgetti misses a golden chance, a perfect cross into the box, he had his defender beaten, but he was a step behind.

A slower-paced game now, but still possession and quality are even. Mexico have a slight edge in hustle, as they should if they're to have any hope at all in this scheduled slaughter.

44... The game has deadlocked at midfield, with a couple of stray shells going in what's believed to be the goal's direction (by Argentina), but nowhere near. Mexico also trying those shots from a few miles off. A nice one by the torridly named Gerardo Torrado, who just for that name should have a goal, but high above the crossbar. And now Argentina playing like they're the 1978 junta: a cynical takedown of a Mexican who'd stolen the ball by himself deep in the Argentine half. Free kick Mexico, just outside the area.

The kick bounces off the wall, the ref's whisle blows.

Half-time.

The myth tastes better

Half-time fun: How Argentina cheated its way to the 1978 finals in Argentina:

From the Wikipedia article on the subject: "There is a controversy surrounding this World Cup dealing with Argentina's final game in the second round against Peru. Because of goal difference, Argentina needed to defeat the Peruvian side by at least four goals to qualify for the final instead of Brazil, thanks to Brazil's 3-1 victory against Poland played a few hours earlier. The controversy lies with the fact that the Peruvian goalkeeper at the time (Ramón Quiroga) was actually born in Argentina and had, until that game, only let in six goals in five matches. Argentina, it should be noted, had only scored six goals in the competition up to this point; they put the same number past Peru, winning 6-0 and advancing to the final. Nevertheless, players of both sides still deny any agreement to favor Argentina."

No wonder Maradona thought cheating was part of Argentina's ways.

Of course Argentina take the field late, drawing boos and whistles from the crowd. The fans are overwhelmingly pro-Mexico. Must be driving red-state audiences in the US mad. All six red-state Americans who actually watch football.

Second half...

52 ... No word yet on which side decided to win this game in the locker room: they've come out playing that tentative game that usually begins first games of group stages. Could well be that Argentina have upticked the smarts and down-ticked the anxiety: they're more deliberate, figuring they could let Mexico play up the intensity and grab the initiative on mexican mistakes. A risky ploy given Mexico's precision today, but Argentina can afford it. For a while. Let's see if it pays off.

54... And there went Mexico capitalizing on its freely conceded intensity with an opportunity inside the Argentina box barely cleared. At this rate it'll be Mexico 2-1 rather fast.

58... Again a more even game now, the intensity back up to its first-half best, Mexico putting together the attacks all the way into the box but Argentina now responding... Saviola making a breakaway run on the near side, shoots, a diving save, an Argentine corner. But it drives long. Mexico regains, saying their prayers to Our Lady of Guadeloupe (or to the Lady of Our Bosoms, above left): they're lucking to be coming out of this without an Argentine goal.

In case you're down on this game and up for a little Bach, or would like to keep watching this terrific game but would rather substitute appropriate beauty for the catastrophe known as American football comentary on ESPN, go here for a little Bach sampler.

64... Mexican player stretched out of play. The Argentine fans have woken up. Maradona must be in the stands again, powdering the crowd. Mexico down a man.

A wrestling match to the finish

66... Argentina with a driving cross inside the box that barely found a Mexican blocker. Mexico trying to make it to the 75th minute, at which point all rankings, all expectations, all predictions are meaningless in a game where the underdog has managed to keep the favored lion from taking the lead. At that point it really becomes a golden goal situation, and either team can make it. Argentina will do what they can to prevent reaching that psychological point in mexico's favor.

68... Mexico making mistakes they didn't make in the first half, yielding unnecessary turnovers-not from battles over the ball, but from sloppiness.

72... Approaching that mark: Mexico still managing to play evenly with Argentina. Remember, we saw this more anorexic style from Argentina in the Holland game. It's not as if the Argentines have a sense of inevitability stamped on their boots. Mexico is pressing the attacks more frequently, and managing to get in deep time after time. This will be a matter of mistakes, not skill: whoever slips first will pay. The substitutions are beginning. That'll start knocking this game's momentum back, unfortunately.

75... Mexico with yet another dangerous cross into the Argentine area, headed off. At this point one has to say that the deserving win is Mexico's, not Argentina's. But great teams need only one break to turn things around, and this match is still Argentina's to lose.

78... The extra-time horns beginning to sound in the stands: Mexico committing silly turn-overs in the Argentine half. Argentina taking advantage, Carlos Teves battling Sanchez the Mexican keeper and winning a corner. The ball now finding its way in the Mexican half, and box: Mexico is beginning to feel rope marks on its back. The worst time for a turn-around, the best of time for Argentina.

81... Infuriating play from Argentina, playing the back-and-forth in their own half: to what end? They're trying to tempt Mexican impatience. Which they judt did: free kick and yellow card against Mexico just inside the Mexican half. Cynical dive by an Argentine caps the fakery.

83... Mexico on a terrific run down the far wing, Zinha tumbled down by Scaloni right in front of the ref, who hands a yellow to a Mexican for kicking the ball away. Lionel Messi the little Argentine heart-throb and Maradona wannabe is substituted in. Mexico strings together another attack, it's diverted, but they maintain possession, a cross, A HEADER BY JOSE FONSECA ON A WONDERFUL CROSS, but it sails wide. Mexico so much more alive and willing than Argentina, who are now playing like a side offended by its entitlement denied.

89... Four minutes left, including injury time. The two sides battling at midfield, playing for fouls and free kicks instead of honest attacks... Tevez for Argentina breaks through, he looks like he has an open way to goal but a superb steal by a Mexican defender, who restores Mexican control down to the Argentine half. Forcing a save.

92... It looked like an Argentine breakaway, but off-side: the ball was in the goal. The off-side call was late.

Argentina can't believe it: Mexico force them into overtime.

WE HAVE OVERTIME

A terrific performance by Mexico that shows up the weaknesses and premature presumptions of Argentina. The bookies still take Argentina for the win, but the match should worry Argentine supporters who assumed that their way to the final would be paved with stumblers and defeatists.

Bo Derek's Argentinian offspring.

1... Argentina with the slightly fresher, brasher legs. Mexico bumping the ball out rather than fighting for possession. The American commentators are having verbal sex with Argentina's Lionel Messi. Shameless hussies. They've mentioned his name twelve times more than Messi has touched the ball (or himself in his still-lingering adolescence).

3... Mexico still not with a solid possession? Check that: a mild attempt down the far Argentinian side, didn't last. Jesus, these commentators are Messi-sick. The Argentines are turning up thyeir acting skills too, as any side would in overtime: looking for that cheap penalty. Finally, Mexico on the attack. They've let Argentina take over in extra time. And still, they do so again: Argentina recovers. Here come the "Messi!" "Messi!" I feel nauseous.

Oh what a goal for Argentina! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL RODRIGUEZ! HE GETS A cross from half way across the field, a diagonal pinpoint cross that Maxi Rodriguez chests as he pivots a few degrees from the corner of the penalty bgox to unleash a rocker to the far post: no chance for the goalie, and it's 2-1 for Argentina, 20 minutes still on the clock Mexico's only consolation.

Mexico not managing to put its foot on this game now. The first half of overtime is drawing to an end. We have a few seconds of injury time tacked on before the sides swith.

16... Lousy-ish quality of play now as legs look for ways to break-up pace on the Argentine side, and on the Mexican side heads and hearts look for a way back in: so far it's all Argentina.

MEXICO'S ZINHA misses by a foot, a well-struck ball diagonally from the corner end of the Argentine box. The keeper barely gauged it right.

23... mexico with a fair chance, a free kick from the near side, most of the Mexican team in the Argentine box, but cleared easily enough.

24... Messi and Tevez put together nice evasive moves on the Mexicans deep in their own ends, finishing up with a good pass well inside the box and what looked like a 1-on-1 between Tevez and the keeper, but the grass had its say: Tevez slipped. Walt Whitman must be favoring Mexico.

Nothing like a shot on goal for Mexico in extra time.

Give it to Mexico: a fine performance. And give it to the next match up in this draw: a Germany-Argentina game should be terrific fun.

 

 

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