Argentina's performances in the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals have been as patchy as those during their qualification stage.
Still unbeaten in the finals so far, Argentina has shown moments of pure brilliance interspersed with moments of tedium. For example, in the first match, they scored a brilliant goal that has been one of the highlights of he tournament so far, but it turned out to be the only goal scored in that match. But their opponent was not Spain, Portugal or Brazil. It was only Nigeria.
The match itself was not a great effort, even if that one particular goal was fantastic. But then, with everyone expecting a similar performance again, Argentina returned with a 4-1 win over Korea, the eventual Group B runner-up.
In their final appearance of the Group Stage, they found themselves locked down by Greece for 77 minutes. It was a match they were expected to win easily, but instead it was nearly a draw.
In the end, Argentina managed to maintain an unbeaten record in Group B, but it's important to take into account that it was arguably the easiest group to be drawn in. Certainly, their goal difference should have been much more positive than it eventually was.
Mexico, on the other hand, had to get through their Group Stage the hard way. Their Group A opponents included Uruguay, France and South Africa. While France is definitely a team that is not functioning up to the usual standard, both Uruguay and South Africa have played very well.
I have been particularly impressed by the improvement of the South African team. Their passing is very similar to that of Brazil, no doubt thanks to the excellent coaching that they are benefiting from. Where that team is let down is in scoring, because they just don't seem to be able to kick goals like Brazil can. Once they figure out how to kick the ball into the net, they will be a great team.
Uruguay has also been impressive. Perhaps a little weak in attack due to not setting up their shots well and kicking the ball too high, the Uruguayans have been exceptional on defense, being one of the only teams (along with Portugal) to have maintained a clean sheet during the Group Stage.
France, of course, totally sucked. There is no denying that. But they still came in with a great reputation and Mexico beat them by two goals.
So although I believe Argentina should beat Mexico, it will not be an easy victory. Mexico will make Argentina work for it.
Of course, of the two teams, Mexico is clearly the weaker team. They play in a vastly inferior league, while Argentina play in the world's strongest. That doesn't give Mexico a lot of opportunity to refine their skills, since they typically play against weaker opposition (and don't always do well, particularly when playing away).
My expectation is that Argentina will dominate the play and win both halves. My principal concern is with the Mexican goal keeper, Oscar Perez, who I don't think is really up to the task of fending off an Argentinian-style attack. Also, I think it has been detrimental to Mexico to play without Jared Borgetti, who has always been the star of the team.
For these reasons, Argentina looks to have a secure path into the next stage of competition, but their effort in getting there could take be taxing. The strategic emphasis for Argentina should be on getting away to an early lead and then avoiding cards. For Mexico, it should be to shut Argentina down for as long as possible and frustrate the attack, and then try to pick up a lucky goal or penalty.
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