Amid the usual excitement and pre-match nerves ahead of Argentina's Round of 16 clash with Mexico in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium on 27 June, Maxi Rodriguez is also sure to be experiencing a healthy dose of nostalgia.
After all, it was his stunning extra-time volley that settled the teams’ last meeting at the finals, which occurred at precisely the same stage of Germany 2006. “There are goals that people remember forever, the kind that aren’t scored every day," said the Rosario-born former Espanyol and Atletico de Madrid wide-man, whose 98th-minute winner against El Tri was later voted goal of the tournament. "That volley is in that category, among the goals you remember all your life.”
“That goal was celebrated everywhere, back in Argentina too from what my family told me. I think that’s my best World Cup memory. Mexico had played a great game, but everything turned out just like a dream for me. We battled back from a goal down, we took the lead in extra time and we came away with the win,” added Rodriguez of the 2-1 success, with his strike coming after Hernan Crespo’s tenth-minute goal had cancelled out Rafael Marquez’s sixth-minute opener.
Including the hard-running midfielder, there are 13 other veterans of that encounter four years’ ago in the two countries’ finals squads, while Rodriguez will also come up against Los Aztecas’ boss Javier Aguirre, his former coach at Atletico. “El Vasco (Aguirre) is very intelligent and real motivator. We worked together for several years and I know what he can do. He’s very good at preparing his players and he’s also got a team under his command that play very good football.”
Also in Leipzig that day cheering on the two-time world champions was Diego Armando Maradona, who now has his hand on La Albiceleste’s rudder here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. “He’s one of the lads and is always looking out for us players, which is absolutely vital,” the 29-year-old told FIFA when asked about El Pelusa’s coaching style.
“I think that the squad as a whole is doing really well and staying nice and relaxed. We’ve done the hardest part which was qualifying for the World Cup, and now we’re ready to show what we’re capable of.”
That being the case, does Argentina’s No20 think his country can edge El Tri off world football’s biggest stage once more? “I think it’ll be a totally different game, even though several of those who played last time are still around. The circumstances are different and a lot of time’s passed since then, though here’s hoping it’s us celebrating again come the final whistle.”