We tried our best, but we must say the opponents were superior. There's nothing left but to recognize just how good this Argentina team really is.
- Mexico coach Hugo SanchezArgentina 3 - 0 Mexico
Goals: Gabriel Heinze 45', Lionel Messi 61', Juan Roman Riquelme 65' (pen)
Subs: Palacio for Tevez (78'), Gago for Veron (78'), Aimar for Riquelme (86')
...and to think, the American fans had me believing that Sanchez was a sore loser. A gracious concession from the Mexican, who has done very well with the squad at his disposal. More on Mexico at the end of this post. Argentina on the other hand gave another patient, mature performance, although the disadvantages of the favoured diamond 4-3-1-2 formation were laid bare in the first half. Those disavantages being mainly a lack of width and the possibility of being overrun by a packed, physical midfield. Detailed analysis of Argentina's performance below.
- El Pato looked a bit more nervous than he did against Peru, but he did keep the clean sheet with the invaluable aid of the woodwork. My measure of how well a 'keeper has done aside from goal mouth incidents is whether or not he transmits a sense of security to his defence, and I'm sorry to say that Pato did not meet that criteria in this game. Still our no.1, though.
- Zanetti had a couple of lapses, but I'm willing to ignore them because of the rest of his performance. Tireless as ever, and he had a couple of very good attacking runs.
- Ayala made me nervous a few times, particular with a tough tackle early on that could have seen him ruled out of the final if the referee had seen fit to give a yellow card. A couple of lapses, but overall I was satisfied with the way he organised the defence.
- Milito had his best game yet in this tournament. Maybe the transfer speculation was unsettling him, and now it's done he can play without it weighing on his mind? Whatever the reason, he was solid in the back and did a good job dealing with Mexico's long balls out of defence.
- Heinze also had his best game yet in the tournament. Aside from scoring an excellent goal, he contributed well to the attack in general. The most improved aspect of his performance has to the balance he seems to have finally achieved between attacking and defending. Perhaps Basile had a word? Defensively he did a good job shutting down the left side.
- What can I say about Javier Mascherano? What a player. Tireless as ever, and always in the right place at the right time, marking, tackling and passing to our creators. Plus, about 80% of his tackles are clean ones where he ends up with the ball. Almost the perfect holding midfielder performance.
- Juan Sebastian Veron has finally convinced me that he deserves to be in the starting line-up alongside Roman. It took some doing as he had a few wobbly performances, but his long-range passing has improved massively from the first few games, and his work rate has been impressive. Somehow, him and Roman are working together, although conventional wisdom says that there's no way they could. His only problem right now is that he doesn't seem to be able to last the full 90.
- Veron's replacement Gago has also improved from his prior showings, with better passing and better judgement with his tackling. I still wouldn't play him ahead of Mascherano, but a combination of the two does work very well in bossing the midfield when Veron needs to come off to rest.
- Cambiasso gave a satisfactory performance, continuing to improve upon his earlier showings. His movement and passing in attack is much better now, and defensively he's always done well to provide security for the main creators.
- I can't tell you how pleased I am reading all these reports about how happy and relaxed Riquelme is feeling right now. It's long been established that the key to getting great performances from Roman is to make sure that his head is in the right place. Easy to say, not easy to do, so much credit to 'Coco' Basile. Another impressive performance, not only in the passing, the impressive freekicks and corners, but also in the determination and effort displayed. Interesting thing about Roman - he's depressive, sure, but he's not unconfident. That chipped penalty took some nerve.
- Aimar didn't play long enough for an assessment, although I will note that he (still) combines really well with Messi.
- Who said that a Messi and Tevez strike partnership would never work? Alright, I did, now I'm eating my words and loving every bite. Perhaps they could both pass to each other a bit more rather than make a difficult attempt on goal sometimes, but then we'd never have those spectacular, showy goals the two of them love scoring so much. A great performance from Tevez, not measured in goals scored but rather in his work rate, his wonderful assist for Messi and the powerful runs which eventually won that (slightly dodgy) penalty.
- His replacement Palacio did a decent job running the Mexican defence down with his pace, and had a good opportunity to score from Messi's throughball.
- I wouldn't say Messi was MOTM, but he put in another solid performance, never compromising his style of play no matter how many times he was fouled. That little incident early on in the second half where 3 Mexican defenders surrounded him and hacked him down, only for him to get back up and attempt to keep going twice (before Marquez effectively body slammed him to the ground) perfectly sums up his attitude. While Marquez did make contact on the penalty/dive incident, it wasn't a penalty. Neither was it a dive, but that was the easy call to make and I can see why the referee went for it. What else can I say? Oh, alright, that goal. Brilliant.
They've been the most positive team Argentina have played in this tournament. Sure, they get by in midfield by fouling all over the place, but they're not as rough as the Columbians and the strategy was effective in containing Argentina's attack in the first half, in which Mexico were perhaps the better team for large stretches. They did try to keep possession, build up attacks from the back and take the game to Argentina, and they were unlucky to be denied by the woodwork on a couple of very good opportunities.
If I have any criticism of Hugo Sanchez, it's that his double substitution at half-time effectively game Argentina free rein through the midfield, but he was forced by circumstances to be chasing the game at that point. Substitutions or not, Mexico had to come out and attack even more for the equaliser, and Argentina have gotten very good at killing off opponents who are chasing the game by keeping the ball and hitting back on the counter attack.
We all know about Nery Castillo now, but that kid Guardado is some player. I can't wait to see him playing with the likes of Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela once the latter two have 'graduated' to the senior team in a couple of years time. I hope Mexicans are proud of El Tri's efforts and their remarkable achievements in this tournament, given the averse circumstances. They've got good reason to look to the future with hope.
Another news round-up to come, and then some words before the final.