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World Cup 2010, Argentina Vs. Mexico Preview: El Tri Tries To Keep Messi, Maxi Mum

The redemption of Diego Maradona continues on Sunday, when the Don tries to push his Argentina side into a quarterfinal match-up with Germany, mirroring the Albiceleste knockout stage path from 2006.

Then, Argentina was eliminated on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals but only after they had taken-out rival Mexico in the Round of 16. Of course, "taken-out" is a bit a euphemism for what happen. The Maxi Rodríguez goal should be made into a poster with 24-point, Times New Roman


... captioning.

Today, Mexico gets their chance to augment history, though this year they have to worry about something more dangerous than Maxi’s left foot.

Argentina, Going Forward: Lionel Messi has yet to crack the scoresheet for Argentina, but he’s been at the center of each goal the Albiceleste’s crafted from open play. Unfortunately for Mexico, Argentina’s proven themselves adept at getting goals other ways, with three of their seven World Cup scores coming from set pieces, an area of weakness for El Tri coming into the World Cup.

Seemingly having left his days as a right wing player to the first half of 2009, Lionel Messi is Argentina’s latest incarnation of a number ten, and while he isn’t dropping as deep into attack as the role’s predecessors, Messi has become the man providing the final ball. Gonzalo Higuaín owes his hat-trick (against South Korea) to him, and Martín Palermo’s goal came after Alexandros Tzovros had trouble handling one of Messi’s shots.

There is, however, a recently crafted blue print for containing Messi. During the club season, Internazionale coach José Mourinho used two deep-sitting central midfielders to help clog the pitch in the areas Messi’s become accustomed to dominating. When Messi went back to the right flank, Inter had a strong presence at left back.


Mexico, unfortunately, is not well-situated to implement this plane, having brought a squad short on midfielders to the tournament.  Mexico will be using central defender Rafa Marquez in a type of deep-sitting midfield position (part of a line of three in front of two central defenders), possibly getting help from Efraín Juárez and Gerardo Torrado. If he can’t slow down Messi, Francisco Rodriguez and Hector Moreno - with little help from wing backs - will be tasked withe managing Messi and Higuaín.

Mexico, Going Forward: Mexico has one open play goal in three matches, scored by substitute Javier Hernández in the second half against France. Torrado’s sup-par tournament combined with coach Javier Aguirre’s use of five defenders has kept Mexico from controlling as much of the play as expected. Getting little from from striker Guillermo Franco and whoever has occupied the left side, Mexico has only one of their three attackers (right wing Giovani dos Santos) performing to expectations.  Synthesized: this team hasn't had a way of scoring goals.

Still, dos Santos could dominate this game. He’s matched-up against Gabriel Heinze, more of a center half at this point in his career who, while excessively maligned, is not capable of dealing with one of the quickest players in the tournament. Supporting him will be left-center half Nicolas Burdisso, filling in for Walter Samuel - a good player who will offer little to help against Mexico’s best attacker. Diego Maradona may have to task central midfielder Javier Mascherano with making Gio’s life miserable any time dos Santos wants to come into the right edge of the box.

If that happens, what is Mexico’s Plan B? Hernández, off-the-bench, is an upgrade to Franco. Cuauhtemoc Blanco has looked his age. What else? Hope Carlos Vela plays better? It’s a paucity of options that’s reflected in Mexico having only Hernández’s open-play goal.

How The Match Turns: There are not many potential turning points foreseeable in this match-up. What’s not foreseeable is how Javier Aguirre will approach the match. At some point, be it before the match or during, he will have to adjust his formation to Messi and Higuaín. Perhaps he won’t and rely on excellent performances from Marquez, Rodríguez and Moreno. If so, those players will provide the match’s turning point.