By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2010; D01
JOHANNESBURG -- Argentina scored twice in the first 33 minutes -- one a goal that should never have been allowed and another that was essentially gift-wrapped -- and rolled to a 3-1 victory over Mexico Sunday at Soccer City Stadium.
The victory sets up what promises to be a delicious quarterfinal with Germany, which trounced England, 4-1, earlier in the day in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Argentina's Carlos Tevez was clearly offside when he struck the first of his two goals at the 26th minute. But a linesman missed the call, prompting howls of protests from Mexican players.
While the gaffe is likely to rekindle the debate about the lack of instant replay in international soccer, as well as the sport's resistance to reversing egregious calls, Sunday's outcome hardly turned on officiating.
Argentina was simply that much better, asserting itself as a serious threat to win its third World Cup despite the fact that its star, Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the world's best player, has yet to score in the tournament.
Argentina has won all four matches it has played and outscored opponents 10-2 along the way.
And its dazzling streak is doing wonders for the reputation of Argentina's famous coach, Diego Maradona -- so brilliant as a competitor in four World Cups and, for much of his 49 years, equally tormented off the pitch.
Although regarded as both hero and savior in Argentina, Maradona was eyed with skepticism when appointed coach of the national team in 2008. There were doubts about his skill as a tactician and doubts, as well, about his emotional stability given a decades-long battle with cocaine and alcohol that he insists is in his past.
Above all, skeptics questioned whether Maradona could sublimate his own ego sufficiently to enable the 23-year-old Messi to stake his claim at this World Cup as Maradona's heir.
But after yet another dominant showing by his team, Maradona lavished praise on his players -- Messi in particular, whose quickness bedevils defenders.
"Lionel Messi is like a jet plane on the pitch," Maradona said. "No matter what they would have tried -- not matter what [Mexico Coach Javier] Aguirre would have fielded -- we would have been able to overcome that resistance due to the quality of our players."
For Mexico, it was a bitter and familiar result.
Afterward Aguirre was muted in his criticism of the linesman's non-call.
"Everybody is human on the pitch -- referee, linesmen and players take decisions in split seconds," Aguirre said. "And referees take split-second decisions, and they can spoil everything."
A jubilant crowd of 84,377 was on hand, making joyful noise from start to finish with their vuvuzelas, drums and song.
Mexico got off to a spirited start. But Argentina struck first.
The sequence began with Messi passing to Tevez, whose shot bounced off goalkeeper Oscar Perez and back into the field of play. Messi chipped it back to Tevez, who knocked it in with a header.
Replay showed that Tevez was clearly offside, but linesman Stefano Ayroldi failed to see it. Mexican players pleaded their case to referee Roberto Rosetti, and a half-dozen Argentines joined the debate.
But the goal had been recorded, and Rosetti let it stand.
The non-call clearly disrupted the Mexicans' concentration, and seven minutes later Argentina struck again -- this time, indisputably and almost effortlessly.
Gonzalo Higuain pounced on a lackadaisical pass by Mexico's Ricardo Rosario, and in a flash, dribbled around him and slotted the ball past Perez, who looked on helplessly from his knees.
As players headed to the locker room at halftime, a fracas broke out behind Mexico's bench but it was soon subdued with Rosetti's intervention.
Argentina's third goal came at the 52nd minute: A spectacular right-footed blast from 25 yards out by Tevez.
Mexico's Javier Hernandez prevented the shutout, sending a left footed blast over goalkeeper Sergio Romero's left shoulder in the 72nd minute. Hernandez beat Nicolas Otamendi on his charge toward the net, and help from defender Ariel Garce arrived too late.