Two glaring mistakes sealed Mexico’s World Cup fate as Argentina repeated their 2006 exploits by eliminating the Aztecas in the second round. Defender Ricardo Osorio’s blunder gifted Gonzalo Higuain the opportunity to put Argentina two ahead, but the first was even more damaging. Mexican morale had been crushed after the linesman wrongly allowed Carlos Tevez’s opener. The Manchester City forward was initially denied by goalkeeper Oscar Perez, but was standing in an offside position when Lionel Messi guided the ball back towards goal. Tevez nodded home, Perez should have held the ball at the first attempt, but the official had no excuse for failing to spot that Tevez was behind Perez and a pair of Mexican defenders. In a bizarre twist, the big screen at Soccer City showed what the officials had missed, sparking outrage from all in a green jersey. The Azetcas’ confronted the official, who was powerless to overrule his previous mistake.
The decision affected a contest that started evenly and impacted Javier Aguirre’s side massively. Heads dropped and emotions threatened to spill over, with many in the Mexican camp willing to argue their case further at the interval. Disappointingly, the incident will mar a fine display of attacking football from both sides. Prior to Tevez‘s goal, it was an even contest. Carlos Salcido thundered a shot from range against the crossbar whilst Andres Guardado’s left foot shot cut across the ball, but unfortunately for El Tri, the ball followed a similar trajectory and flew past the Argentine right-hand post.
Aguirre sprung a surprise to his starting line-up by bringing Adolfo Bautista in from the cold to fill the void left by Carlos Vela’s injury. So far in the tournament the Coach’s major decisions have caught the opposition off guard, but Bautista was ineffective and replaced by Pablo Barrera at half-time. Javier Hernandez’s impressive performances from the substitutes bench earned him a starting spot at the expense of the disappointing Guillermo Franco. Hernandez was expected to lead the line just as Franco had done previously, but offered a speedier outlet to a creative Mexican midfield. The Manchester United man flashed a shot wide and was inches away from turning a Guardado cross goal ward. He headed narrowly over in the second-half but was rewarded for his efforts on 71 minutes, blasting a shot past Sergio Romero after a clever turn evaded Argentine defenders. Yet Aguirre should be heralded for the way his side approached the second-half. After entering the dressing room seething at going behind so contentiously, El Tri focussed solely on getting back into the tie. The introduction of Barrera injected pace and trickery to the left-hand side, traits that Aguirre has often wished to utilise from the bench. The 23-year-old fired into the side netting and had an effort cleared off the line, but Tevez’s brilliantly-struck second was one setback too far.
So Diego Maradona’s side advance at the expense of El Tri, but unlike in Leipzig, it was settled in 90 minutes. Argentina’s third goal even mirrored that of their winner that day, Tevez’s strike just as spectacular as Maxi Rodriguez’s extra-time decider four years earlier. Many of Aguirre’s team will exit the tournament with their profiles raised, but will still feel aggrieved at the injustice of conceding a goal where the scorer was undisputedly offside. Mexican inquests were more muted at the final whistle, with a two-goal deficit confirming defeat and the journey home earlier than anticipated. With fans expecting a quarter final finish, failure to beat Uruguay- and as a result failing to win Group A- ensured that the Aztecas’ took the more challenging route, and came up short despite a spirited performance against a side blessed with blistering attacking options.