June 27, 2010


Expectation mounts as Argentina take on Mexico (Sam Kelly, 6/26/10, When Saturday Comes)

Having thought before the tournament of playing four centre backs across the defence in a bid to provide stability, Maradona used Jonás Gutiérrez – a left midfielder at Newcastle United – as a right-back in the first two group games. When I was a small child I once tried to get my cat to sit, stay, walk to heel and so on, with predictably poor results. For all I know, I might be a superb dog trainer. Diego Maradona, equally, might be an undiscovered expert in defensive coaching – but Jonás simply isn't a defender. Nicolás Otamendi is, though, so the young Vélez Sarsfield centre-back (who will probably be sold to AC Milan after the World Cup) who played at right-back against Greece in the last group game, will keep his place.

The more bizarre choice on Maradona's part will probably be the dropping of Seba Verón – who completed only one pass fewer than the entire Greek team put together on Tuesday – for Ángel di María, who played very poorly in the first game against Nigeria and fairly unremarkably in the second against South Korea. The added pace this will bring to the midfield will be welcome against a Mexican side who are better marshalled than Argentina's group stage opponents, but Verón's guile could well be called on later in the game.

The whole country, though, is still waiting with bated breath for Lionel Messi's first goal of this World Cup.

...but there's nothing crazy about interchanging players, especially at non-premium positions.

Mexico looking for respect -- and revenge -- as Argentina looms: In the run-up to Sunday's World Cup game, the focus has been on unbeaten Argentina and its star, Lionel Messi. But Mexico wants to prove that it's not just a soccer also-ran, and to avenge its 2006 loss to the Argentines. (Kevin Baxter, June 27, 2010, LA Times)

"It's Argentina. So what?" Rafael Marquez said in Spanish. "We can beat them."

For Marquez, this match is personal. The 31-year-old defender, playing in his third World Cup, saw the last one end in a second-round loss to Argentina in extra time. Four years later he still hasn't gotten over it.

"I have a thorn in my side from [that]," said Marquez, one of eight members of this year's Mexican team who also played in the 2006 World Cup. "I'm going through one of the best moments of my soccer life and my professional life. And I want to enjoy it.

"This is going to be my last World Cup and we have to take advantage of this game. We're just a step away from history."

That's because a victory would send Mexico on to the quarterfinals for just the third time – and for the first time since current coach Javier Aguirre played for the national team.

"It's an opportunity to change the history, to transcend it and go forward," said goalkeeper Oscar Perez who, at 37, is playing in his last World Cup as well. "Javier has given us the tools to win and we're going to try to carry it out."

Doing that, however, is likely to require a delicate balancing act. Under Aguirre, Mexico has played a dynamic game in which its midfielders and most of its defenders push forward on the offensive end. That has left it open to counterattacks, though, and with Messi leading a speedy front line that also features Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, Mexico could find itself playing right into Argentina's hands.

Which is why Argentine midfielder Maxi Rodriguez, who scored the winning goal against Mexico in 2006, believes Aguirre will change styles Sunday. The Mexicans, meanwhile, say it's just a matter of being careful.

"We intend to take good care of the ball. And when we don't have it we have to try to get it back as soon as possible," midfielder Gerardo Torrado said.

They'll have to try to score, too, something Mexico has had trouble doing despite its aggressive style. El Tri has just three goals in this World Cup, one of which came on a penalty kick. And with Arsenal striker Carlos Vela slowed with a hamstring problem, the Mexican attack could be hamstrung even further.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2010 6:52 AM
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