Argentina accept gifts to make light of Mexico

JOHANNESBURG - Give Argentina a two-goal head start and the result will not be in much doubt, as Mexico discovered when a dreadful decision and a defensive mistake smoothed a World Cup quarter-final path for the twice winners.

Surging with the self-confidence Diego Maradona seems able to transmit directly from the touchline, Argentina found life absurdly easy for much of a 3-1 win at Soccer City on Sunday.

Still a goal for Lionel Messi would not come - he has now gone four games playing well without one - but a brilliant strike from Carlos Tevez, his second of the match, and one from Gonzalo Higuain showed the days of their dependence on the impish striker are long gone.

The only real worry for Maradona, if his natural self-belief allows him any such reflection, will be that his preference for Nicolas Otamendi at right back and the midfield omission of Juan Sebastian Veron led to nervous moments in defence.

Not for the first time at this World Cup they looked vulnerable to a team prepared to get players in behind their fullbacks and Germany need not feel overawed heading into their quarter-final.

To stand any chance, of course, they cannot afford to give Argentina the sort of gifts they enjoyed in Johannesburg.

MEXICO UNSETTLED

Mexico had looked comfortable from the start, pinging the ball around and going close when Carlos Salcido smashed a long-range shot against the bar, only for Tevez to score the first goal from an offside position which unsettled them.

The Mexican players argued with the referee and his assistant until they were blue in the face, all to no avail.

If they had shown such concentration in defence they might have avoided conceding a second but Ricardo Osario made an inexplicable mistake to let Higuain in for the second.

Argentina had the game won with the third goal soon after the break but the ease with which Mexico striker Javier Hernandez got clear to score a fine consolation will have had Germany's speedy forwards taking notice.

The German defence, of course, will have to contend with an attack that was once again in devastating form, with Messi, goal or no goal, at the heart of almost everything they created for the 60 minutes or so they actually needed to exert themselves.

The story of Argentina at this World Cup has been that if Tevez does not get you, Higuain, the top scorer with four goals, surely will.

If Messi finally joins the scoring party, as he almost did in bringing a fingertip save from Oscar Perez at the end, it will take something extraordinary to stop them.

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