On 24 June 2006, in Leipzig, Argentina and Mexico met in a pulsating Round of 16 encounter at that year's FIFA World Cup™. The South Americans went through with a 2-1 win, with the Mexicans' hopes of a quarter-final place dashed once again. Four years on, Javier Aguirre’s men are desperate for revenge and have the chance to test themselves against arguably the tournament’s form team. But will they be able to handle charismatic coach Diego Maradona and mercurial maestro Lionel Messi?
Argentina-Mexico, Round of 16, Johannesburg, Sunday 27 June, 20.30 (local time)
Argentina come into the last 16 on the crest of a wave, having swept all before them in Group B and ended up with three wins and nine points. Coach Maradona seems to have forged a sense of purpose and endeavour from a squad that had its difficulties in qualifying for South Africa 2010 and, with an in-form Lionel Messi in their ranks, they are hoping to book their place amongst the world’s top eight sides for the second FIFA World Cup in succession. El Diego will also enjoy the luxury of having a full-strength squad to choose from, free from injuries and suspensions.
For his part, Mexico boss Aguirre has already expressed his disquiet at having finished in second place in Group A, largely because his team has been inconsistent so far. A fine victory against 2006 runners-up France was the highpoint of El Tri’s group games, but it was sandwiched between a draw with hosts South Africa and a narrow defeat against Uruguay.
However revenge will be uppermost in Los Aztecas’ thoughts, not least because the current squad contains several survivors of that last, fateful meeting with Argentina including Rafael Marquez, who scored Mexico’s goal in Leipzig four years ago. The objective for Aguirre’s men is plain and simple: to get to that elusive “fifth game” at a FIFA World Cup finals tournament, and to book their place in the quarter-finals for the first time in 24 years.
History is on the side of Argentina; in fourteen matches against Mexico in the last 20 years, La Albiceleste have emerged victorious on seven occasions, with five draws and only two wins for El Tri.
Players to watch
Lionel Messi v Rafael Marquez
The Barcelona team-mates will meet once again as international rivals, as in 2006, when Mexican skipper Marquez opened the scoring and Messi came on as a late substitute with only a matter of minutes left in the game. The FIFA World Player of the Year 2009 is yet to notch his first goal in South Africa 2010, and La Pulga will be hoping to open his account in the knockout stages. Marquez, however, has continued his knack of scoring goals from his defensive midfield position, and scored his country’s first goal of the tournament in the Opening Match against South Africa.
14 - No fewer than 14 current players are survivors of the two nations’ last FIFA World Cup meeting in Leipzig in 2006. Amongst the eight Mexicans and six Argentinians is midfielder Maxi Rodriguez, whose superb volleyed winner for the 1986 champions was named by FIFA.com readers as the goal of the 2006 finals.
What they said
“We’re going to give Mexico the respect they deserve because, in spite of losing against Uruguay, they know exactly what they're doing. We will try to get at them and look for their weaknesses. They will have to respect my players as well because we’re putting together a very good tournament and we'll give everything for the shirt,” Diego Maradona, Argentina coach.
“It’s Argentina, but so what? There is always a lot of pessimism in Mexico. Unfortunately sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and we don’t have that extra self-belief that other teams have. We need to change that mindset. Argentina can be beaten and that’s the way we need to approach the game,” Rafael Marquez, Mexico captain.