Once upon a time…. The World awaited for one of the most anticipated games of the 2006 World Cup. The Mexico/Argentina rivalry had decades of bitter emotions between both nations. It had been a rivalry clearly dominated by the South American giants but their opponents had been vastly improving in recent years. With the legend Diego Armando Maradona in attendance, the Argentina vs. Mexico in 2006 was a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Argentina, as expected, was one of the favorites to win the World Cup in 2006. A beautifully creative attack led by magician Juan Roman Riquelme helped them win the group with ease. The partnership of Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola was one of the deadliest in the tournament. Off the bench they had a sensational Carlos Tevez and some 19-year-old skinny kid by the name of Lionel Messi. Despite leaving out Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti, Argentina’s defense had conceded just one goal during the tournament.
On the other hand, Mexico had come into the tournament as the new CONCACAF giants. They were the only North American nation to be a group leader in the World Cup. A great performance in the 2005 Confederations Cup had the whole ready to see what Ricardo La Volpe could do with his team. However, the team failed to beat Portugal in the group stage. With the defeat, they were awarded a match up against Argentina.
The nerves were flying high early in the game. Just six minutes in, Mexico was awarded a dangerous free kick from the right flank. Pavel Pardo whipped in a dangerous cross and it was flicked on in the near post. Captain Rafa Marquez was left practically unmarked by Gabriel Heinze and he slid in to put it away easily. Less than 10 minutes in and Mexico had already set the tone for the game. Unfortunately for el Tri, the glory didn’t last long.
In the 9th minute, Argentina was awarded a corner kick also from their right side. Roman Riquelme’s near post cross was deflected by an unknown player and into Osvaldo Sanchez’ goal. Now, it’s been more than 10 years since this game took place and the scorer remains a mystery. The goal was officially awarded to Hernan Crespo. However, replays fail to clearly show if it was Crespo’s foot that deflected it or Jared Borgetti’s foot. Own goal or not, Argentina had leveled up the game with almost 80 to play.
Minutes later in the first half, Hernan Crespo had a golden chance to take the lead. He found himself 1v1 against Sanchez but his chipped shot went just wide of the mark. Mexico’s high line was beaten but Argentina failed to capitalize on the marvelous opportunity. Despite the scare, the score remained even.
Jared Borgetti responded with a strike of his own. Mexico’s greatest striker struggled to find openings all game long against the Ayala-Heinze partnership in defense. But like all great strikers, he created space for himself. Borgetti saw a small opening and tested “el Pato” Abondanzieri from distance. The veteran keeper was on his toes and kept the shot away from danger.
The rest of the game was a hard fought game in the midfield. Few opportunities for either side despite the offensive-minded substitutions throughout the game. In the words of some of the greatest coaches in the World, football is a game of chess and not checkers. Argentina vs. Mexico in 2006 was the perfect example of said philosophy. Every moment and every pass had a set purpose and the chain of events leading up to it was carefully planned out.
Just as the game was ending, Argentina came close to finding a late winner. Their signature ball movement was put on full display between Tevez and Messi. After a combination of passes, Tevez was played through behind the defense. He left it for an open Messi who had no goalie in front of him as he tapped it in. The play would be incorrectly called offside and the game would end tied at 1-1.
The tie was finally broken up early in extra time. Just eight minutes into extra time, Argentina found out that you can score without getting through someone’s defense. A young Lionel Messi initiated the play from the right hand side. A very Messi-like play we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the years. Messi had the ball at his feet, cut inside and switched it to Sonrin open on the left.
Sonrin brought it down elegantly, looked up and spotted an open Maxi Rodriguez on the right hand side. Another brilliant full-field switch by Sonrin seemed harmless to the Mexican defense. Maxi Rodriguez trapped the ball with his chest and before the ball touched the ground, he knew exactly what he was doing. A flawless left footed volley caught Osvaldo Sanchez flatfooted. A powerful yet amazingly lobbed volley went right over Sanchez’ reach and into the back of the net. The golazo had the Argentina bench in full celebration mode while Mexico was left in awe.
The 25-year-old Maxi Rodriguez wrote his name in Argentina’s history books with a jaw-dropping banger. Rodriguez’s goal continues to haunt the memories of Mexicans who saw their team eliminated in such a cruel way. Argentina would eventually lose out in penalties to hosts Germany but they wouldn’t have advanced without Maxi. The rivalry will continue but that Argentina vs. Mexico in 2006 gave us a strike to tell our grandchildren.