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Argentina again sends Mexico packing from World Cup

Mexico’s run at history ran into a road block Sunday. And a familiar one at that with Argentina taking advantage of some bad officiating and even worse Mexican ballhandling for a 3-1 victory in the second round of the World Cup.

With the win, Argentina moves on to face Germany in the tournament quarterfinals in Cape Town. Mexico, meanwhile, goes home after the second round.

Again.

With Argentine bootprints on its back.

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Again.

This is the fifth time in as many World Cups that Mexico has been knocked out in the second round – and the second time in four years that it was eliminated by Argentina.

In 2006, the South Americans won a memorable game on a goal by Maxi Rodriguez in the 98th minute. There was little of that drama this time.

We’re not here on vacation, we came here to leave everything so that the Argentines can be proud of us,” Coach Diego Maradona said.

Argentina made sure of that with two quick goals midway through the first half, the first by Carlos Tevez and the second by Gonzalo Higuain.

The first, in the 26th minute, came after Argentina won a contested ball at midfield and sent it ahead to Lionel Messi, who in turn passed it ahead to Carlos Tevez.

Mexican keeper Oscar Perez came out to challenge Tevez, knocking the ball off his foot and back to Messi, who volleyed it forward for Tevez to head home.

The Argentine forward was a good two yards offside, however – a fact the Mexicans argued vociferously. And at first it looked as if Italian referee Roberto Rosetti was going to do the right thing and wave off the goal.

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At least the Argentines thought so because they immediately began arguing their case.

But when both sides finished with their pleas, the goal was left to stand.

“Two mistakes ... drastically changed the course of the game,” Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre said. “There was a before and after.”

The second goal, which came seven minutes later, was well-earned, though it too was set up by a ballhandling error.

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Defender Ricardo Osorio inexplicably lost the ball off his foot and Higuain pounced on it. The Argentine striker then fought his way around Osorio and into the box for a short shot that beat Perez easily to give Higuain a tournament-high fourth goal in as many games.

Mexico had its chances in the first half as well, arguably outplaying the Argentines for much of the time. But while Argentina was getting the breaks, El Tri wasn’t.

In the opening minutes a Carlos Salcido rocket from 35 yards hit the crossbar, for example, and minutes later an Andres Guardado shot from about 20 yards missed an open corner of the net.

And then in first-half stoppage time a sliding Javier Hernandez redirected a cross with his foot but it bounced right into the arms of Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.

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Argentina made all that moot seven minutes into the second half, though, when Tevez stuck the final dagger into Mexico’s heart – and a dagger it was, coming on a blistering 25-foot shot into the upper-right corner of the net.

“We had trouble getting into the game in the first few minutes,” Tevez said. “We knew Mexico was going to press from the onset, try to take the ball away from us in the first minutes and try to hurt us.”

Hernandez finally got Mexico on the board in the 71st minute with his second goal of this World Cup, his first.

Set up on the edge of the box with his back to the goal like an NBA center, he took a pass, wheeled to his left, dribbled a few yards forward to create space, then let go with a left-footer that beat Romero high, just below the crossbar.

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But it was way too little and way too late to make a difference.

For Mexico, which spent most of the spring insisting this team was the best in the country’s long soccer history, Sunday’s loss marks both the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez, both of whom wore the captain’s armband in South Africa, have said this will be their last World Cup. The same is likely true of 37-year-old goalkeeper Oscar Perez, who started all four of Mexico’s games here, 33-year-old striker Guillermo Franco and midfielder Gerardo Torrado, 31.

But the crop of under-23 players Mexico has coming up – a group that includes Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Guardado, Giovani dos Santos and Efrain Juarez – may be even better.

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And although Mexico fell a win short of the goal it promised its fans – a spot in the quarterfinals – a defiant Aguirre said the team still outperformed the expectations of most.

“We’ve been very clear since we came together 13 or 14 months ago that we wanted to make history, change the course of things,” said Aguirre, who turned the program around after replacing Sven-Goran Eriksson in April 2009, when El Tri in danger of failing to qualify for South Africa.

“Nobody gave a peso for us. There were public opinion polls, surveys, analysis who said we were dead.”

Instead, Mexico beat France and battled South Africa to a tie in group play, setting up Sunday’s knockout-round matchup with Maradona’s powerful Argentina team, which rolled through its group unbeaten.

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And once again, that’s where Mexico’s road ended.


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