Tough task, but there’s hope ahead of Ar­gentina match

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

MEX­ICO CITY: Max­i­m­il­iano Stern is an Ar­gen­tine work­ing in Mex­ico, and he has mixed emo­tions about to­mor­row’s World Cup match be­tween Mex­ico and Ar­gentina.

“I would have pre­ferred that Mex­ico played some­one else in the next round and kept win­ning,” Stern said.

“But now that we play Mex­ico, I hope we win. Of course, it’s not guar­an­teed. It’s been a nice party at­mos­phere here. Mex­i­cans will give a party for any­thing.”

Mex­i­cans know all too well the fi­esta is likely to end – and again against Ar­gentina.

This marks the fifth straight time that Mex­ico has reached the fi­nal 16 of the World Cup.

Mex­ico lost the four pre­vi­ous show­downs – against Bul­garia, Ger­many and the United States in 2002.

The lat­est came in the 2006, a 2-1 loss in ex­tra-time to Ar­gentina through a soar­ing vol­ley by Maxi Ro­driguez.

Stern, the di­rec­tor of an IT com­pany in Mex­ico City, was here four years ago and took grief from his Mex­i­can col­leagues af­ter Ar­gentina’s vic­tory. He fears a re­peat.

“I will have to lock my­self in the house again for a week,” he said. “It’s not good to be an Ar­gen­tine liv­ing here and be in­volved in more foot­ball frus­tra­tion for Mex­ico. Even on a nor­mal day, Ar­gen­tines are not the most pop­u­lar here.”

Thou­sands of Mex­i­cans went with hope this week to the An­gel de la In­de­pen­den­cia mon­u­ment in the city’s cen­tre, the tra­di­tional site of foot­ball cel­e­bra­tions.

What they found af­ter the loss were rows of po­lice­men in riot gear hold­ing shields and hel­mets list­lessly, watch­ing from a dis­tance as small groups of fans in jer­seys and som­breros posed for news cam­eras.

“To be for Mex­ico… it’s a bit tough,” said Je­sus Sanchez, wear­ing a black Mex­ico jersey and milling around the An­gel.

A hard-core Mex­ico fan with a home jersey draped over her ar m, Ma­rina Gon­za­lez pre­dicted a 3-0 loss against Ar­gentina and an­other dis­ap­point­ing exit.

“It’s dif­fi­cult be­cause we al­ways hope, but we don’t al­ways play,” she said af­ter Tues­day’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay that left Mex­ico sec­ond in Group A and set up the show­down with the two-time cham­pi­ons.

Ar­gentina de­feated Greece 2-0 to win Group B.

Mex­i­cans see their coun­try as a foot­ball force, but the re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent.

Mex­ico have never gone past the quar­ter-fi­nals, reach­ing that stage when they hosted the event in 1970 and 1986.

The Mex­i­cans have slipped be­hind the USA as the power in the re­gion, and en­ter­ing the World Cup they were ranked No 17 by Fifa. So an exit at the round of 16 is about right.

Coach Javier Aguirre said his team would need on-field savvy to beat Ar­gentina, who play a game sim­i­lar to Uruguay’s.

“It’s go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive against an­other team that knows how to man­age the clock, the ref­eree, the fouls – that looks for ev­ery ad­van­tage. We will have to over­come things like this.”

Just down the street from the An­gel, to­mor­row’s big game could mean big busi­ness for Javier Pacheco, an Ar­gen­tine who man­ages the res­tau­rant Que­bra­cho.

The tra­di­tional Ar­gen­tine bar­be­cue joint will be hop­ping.

“The Mex­i­cans are pas­sion­ate about the game like we are,” Pacheco said. “I think we will win. But I worry be­cause we have all these great stars and we don’t al­ways play as a team.”

David Acuna, a Mex­i­can and the head­waiter, de­scribed the match as 50-50.

“Ar­gentina is very good,” he said. “Maybe they have bet­ter play­ers. But we can beat them. We al­ways say that. But I’m still op­ti­mistic.” – Sapa-AP

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