Maxi Rodriguez: My Mexico goal was a career highlight
15 years since the Argentinian’s wonder goal against Mexico at Germany 2006
It sent his country into the last eight and was voted Goal of the Tournament
FIFA.com spoke to Rodriguez about that strike and his other memorable moment with La Albiceleste
Compile a list of great Argentina goals at the FIFA World Cup™ this century and Maximiliano Rodriguez’s wonder strike against Mexico in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006 is sure to feature on it.
With the match all square at 1-1 in the first half of extra time, Rodriguez found the back of the net with a stunning left-footed volley that sent Jose Pekerman's Argentina into the quarter-finals and was voted Goal of the Tournament, an award presented for the first time at Germany 2006.
“That goal didn’t change me but it did change my career. People remind me of it wherever I go,” a smiling Rodriguez told FIFA.com. “Everyone dreams about scoring a winner that takes Argentina through to the next round, but to actually achieve it was amazing.”
There is a whole story behind the two seconds that it took Rodriguez to chest the ball down and thump his match-winning volley past the Mexico keeper that 24 June, exactly 15 years ago today.
Recalling the split-second decisions he took in scoring it, the 40-year-old, who scored three of his 15 Argentina goals at that World Cup, said: “I remember the whole move all as if it were today. [Juan Pablo] Sorin picked the ball up on the left. I found a bit of space on the right and shouted for it. Juampi didn't usually hit cross balls but he must have got fed up with me. He hit it perfectly too!
“When I saw it coming towards me, I was going to chest it on to my right foot, my stronger foot,” he continued. “But I could see there was a defender on that side, so I brought it down on to my left. I knew I’d caught it perfectly as soon as I’d hit it. I watched it all the way and, when it beat the keeper and flew in, I just went crazy.”
I’ve got a good relationship with Sanchez and he always says to me, ‘You ! You only ever used your left foot to get into your car!’
The keeper in question was Oswaldo Sanchez, who said he would have taken a step back and saved it if his view had not been blocked. Mexico full-back Gonzalo Pineda has said he could see what Rodriguez was going to do but still cannot believe he hit it with his left. As for Ricardo La Volpe, Mexico’s coach that day, he still blames Pineda for not closing down Sorin’s 30-yard cross.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Sanchez and he always says to me, ‘You ****! You only ever used your left foot to get into your car!’” added Rodriguez, before defending his opponents that day. “I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. I’d never scored a goal like that with my left. Goals like that just come out of the blue. It had been a very even game up until then.”
Argentina lost on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals, a shootout in which Rodriguez held his nerve to convert from the spot. “We had a great side and were strong in every department. We should have beaten the Germans, but sometimes playing well isn’t enough. You need a bit of luck and we didn’t get it in the shootout.”
Despite the result, the impact of Rodriguez’s Goal of the Tournament continued to reverberate after the tournament was over. “I played for Atletico Madrid at the time, under a Mexican coach, Javier Aguirre. He used to drive me nuts about it. We went on a pre-season trip to Mexico too, but they treated me really well. It’s a great country.”
Rodriguez kept the left boot and the shirt he wore that day, but in 2016 he received an even more precious souvenir of the occasion: the ball he scored the goal with, which was given to him by Oscar Ustari, the third-choice keeper in that Argentina squad.
“I had my hands on it as soon as the match was over, and he always said to me that he had it,” said Rodriguez. “He’d send me photos of it. We’re very good friends. He came over on my birthday one year and said: ‘You’re the one who should have this.’ It was an amazing gesture.”
A decisive spot-kick
Rodriguez appeared at two more World Cups: South Africa 2010, with Diego Maradona as coach, and Brazil 2014, with Alejandro Sabella. It was at the second of those tournaments that he was thrown into the spotlight once more, when he scored the winning penalty in the semi-final shootout against the Netherlands, which came after the two sides had gone goalless for two hours.
“Do you know when it came into my mind that this was all fate? When I was walking from the centre circle to the penalty box,” recalled the former attacking midfielder. “That was harder than actually taking the penalty. With the Mexico goal, there wasn’t any time to think about the consequences. I just hit it. Here, I thought about what would happen if I scored. But what if I missed? In terms of making decisions, it was the toughest experience of my career.”
Describing his feelings when the ball went in, Rodriguez said, “I felt relief first of all and then an explosion of joy, because of everything it meant.”
Though he did not play in the Final against Germany, Rodriguez felt the pain of defeat as much as anyone. “Our finishing was a bit off that day. You need to give Lady Luck a little helping hand, and we didn’t. I’ve never watched the match again. It was one of the biggest blows of my career.”
Despite receiving a few more call-ups, Rodriguez never played for his country again and retired from international football in 2016, with 54 caps to his name.
The transition from player to fan has not come easy, as he acknowledged. “Even when you play for the national team you’re a fan, and I found it hard to watch them on TV to begin with. It took a few years. It was almost as if I wanted to play, but you always work through phases like that and now I cheer and suffer just as much as any fan.”
As he nears the end of his playing career with his beloved Newell’s Old Boys, Rodriguez can look back with pride on his days with La Albiceleste. “It’s so hard to get into the team and stay there, but I won a U-20 World Cup and played in three senior World Cups. Just as much as the goals, those are the things that have stayed with me, both in Argentina and around the world. You never forget them.”