Tevez 25, 52, Higuain 33
Argentina cruised to victory over Mexico to set up a quarter-final against Germany but they needed the help of an offside goal to set them on their way. Carlos Tevez struck twice, including the hotly disputed goal, and Gonzalo Higuain also scored for Argentina with Javier Hernandez grabbing a consolation for the Mexicans.
Mexico came close to scoring twice in 30 seconds after eight minutes. First Carlos Salcido hammered a 40 yard shot that smashed against the bar after the merest touch from Sergio Romero, then Andres Guardado fired just past the post with the outside of his boot as the ball deviated off target at the last moment. Lionel Messi attempted to chip Oscar Perez after 12 minutes but the keeper caught the ball on his line. Argentina went ahead in controversial circumstances after 25 minutes. Perez blocked at the feet of Tevez but the ball ran out to Messi who chipped from the edge of the area and Tevez headed in from close range. Tevez was clearly offside when Messi played the ball but the goal was given. If the first goal was the fault of the officials, then Ricardo Osorio was solely to blame for the second after 33 minutes. He casually under-hit a square pass on the edge of his area and Higuain nipped in and rounded Perez before slotting into the empty net.
Salcido came close to an instant reply, stinging the palms of Romero with another long range shot before Perez saved low to his left from Angel Di Maria. Higuain should have put the game to bed three minutes before half-time but headed wide from six yards. It took seven minutes of the second half for a third goal to arrive, Tevez firing an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner. Pablo Barrera wasted a good opportunity to bring Mexico back into the game, tricking his way into the box down the left before firing into the side netting from an impossible angle rather than cutting the ball back. Barrera came closer 20 minutes from time, improvising a finish to hook the ball goalwards but Gabriel Heinze cleared off the line. A minute later, Hernandez got Mexico their goal, turning past two defenders on the edge of the box and drilling into the top corner. Rafael Marquez was close to pulling a second goal back but Heinze just beat him to the ball at the back post, heading clear. In stoppage time, Messi curled at goal but Perez tipped it over.
The opening goal from Tevez furthered the debate about the use of television replays that had reopened earlier today thanks to Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal. Again, a single replay would have clearly shown that Tevez was two yards offside, a fact proven by the consternation of the officials when the incident appeared on the giant screen inside the stadium. It was clear that Roberto Rosetti and his assistant knew they had made a mistake but the goal had to stand as officials are not allowed to use video evidence in making their calls. It brings to mind the 2006 World Cup final where it was alleged that the fourth official instigated Zinedine Zidane’s sending off having seen the headbutt on a monitor at the side of the pitch. Too many replays would slow the game down but there are some cases that would need only one look to help the referee make the correct decision.
The decision appeared to cost Mexico more than just that individual goal. The Mexicans had started the game brightly and had looked the more dangerous team. They could have been ahead but for a matter of inches through the excellent shots from Salcido and Guardado and were effectively limiting the influence of Messi by restricting him to picking the ball up near the halfway line. Having gone behind, the Mexicans seemed to lose their heads for a period, illustrated by the bizarre mistake from Osorio who seemed either indecisive about what he was doing or distracted. The ball moved barely a few metres and the arch-poacher Higuain nipped in ruthlessly. In their heads, Mexico were already beaten, and it was not until the introduction of Guillermo Franco at 3-0 down that they began to play a bit more with the additional presence up front.
Argentina have now scored 10 goals at this World Cup but not a single one has come from Messi. His form is a slight worry for Diego Maradona, sporadically showing bursts of his superb ability but rarely dominating matches as he has done with regularity for Barcelona. Against Greece he was marked out of the game for 85 minutes, springing into life only in the final five minutes with the second Argentine goal coming after his shot was saved. Mexico chose not to repeat the trick but he still struggled to influence proceedings. If there is any player capable of beating a whole team from the halfway line, it is Messi, but compared to letting him have the ball near goal, this was a safe enough tactic for Mexico to utilise. Fortunately for Argentina, they are able to call on players as talented and in-form as Tevez and Higuain, allowing Messi to drift in and out of games without being overly detrimental to the team’s fortunes.
Mexico will feel particularly hard done to following the concession of the first goal, and will wonder what they might have been able to achieve had they stayed on level terms. They were excellent for the first 25 minutes and were getting back into the match in the final 25. They have had a strong World Cup but unfortunately have not managed to get past the round of 16 stage that has now seen them exit the competition in the past five tournaments. Argentina will now go on to face Germany in the quarter-finals, a particularly attractive looking match between two teams that have been among the best attacking sides in the competition. Neither side is particularly convincing in defence but both have been devastating going forward, meaning a goalfest could be on the cards.