They stood in the centre circle at the end, twirling their peeled-off shirts above their puffed-up bare chests, bouncing up and down with joy. In the stands their fans sang and sang and sang some more. Diego Maradona looked like he might just pop. Having delivered a World Cup calling card in beating Ivory Coast last Saturday, Argentina yesterday decided to make the party theirs alone.
They are some team and it will take some team to beat them. Whether anyone is up to the challenge remains to be seen. If the Argentinians continue to play like this, it may be an immaterial thought anyway. It could be an impossible task.
Afterwards, Ilija Petkovic, the Serbia & Montenegro coach, looked distraught. "It was one of the worst results in our football history," he said, before adding that it will be talked about for "generations to come". That history is about to change. Defeat means they are out of the competition and with the country splitting in two, they now have just one game left in their present incarnation.
It was a sad way to go. In 90 minutes they conceded six goals. In their previous 12 competitive games they had given up just two. It showed the gulf between the two sides. And the class of the Argentinians. All their big names were majestic. In the first half it was the Javier Saviola show, in the second it was Juan Roman Riquelme, Hernan Crespo and then - quite wonderfully - the young substitutes Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. At the back they were as ruthless as they were formidable. Argentina have everything.
It was a display of skill, brio, belief and elegant precision. The Serbs were out-played, dissected, diminished. Not so much defeated as demoralised. Frustration exploded after 65 minutes when Mateja Kezman was dismissed for a two-footed lunge.
Argentina made one change from the team that beat the Ivory Coast in that exhilarating and bruising encounter in Hamburg but that change was reversed after just 18 minutes when Luis Gonzalez was injured and Esteban Cambiasso was reintroduced. He then went on to score one of the goals of the tournament. Of any tournament. Saviola flicked a pass to Riquelme who found Cambiasso. He then relayed it to Crespo who delayed, before back-heeling into Cambiasso's path and his first-time shot flew past Dragoslav Jevric. Not bad for a holding midfielder.
The goalkeeper had already been beaten, on six minutes. Again a back-heel was involved. This time Juan Pablo Sorin picked out Saviola who slipped a pass to Maxi Rodriguez and he bent his shot around Jevic. Before the break, Rodriguez added another - after Saviola had stolen the ball from Mladen Krstajic, then beat Milan Dudic before Jevric palmed his cross-shot to Rodriguez who squeezed the ball in off a post.
Tevez came on and then, to an even wilder ovation, Messi. Just four minutes after his introduction the 18-year-old - whose appearance means he is the youngest-ever player to represent Argentina in a World Cup finals - crossed low from Riquelme's umpteenth clever pass for Crespo to tap in the fourth.
Tevez was also in on the act. He ran in off the left wing, slalomed past one challenge, barrelled through another and then calmly side-footed in, before, brilliantly, Messi scored too. Tevez and Crespo linked to roll the ball to the Barcelona prodigy, playing competitively for the first time since March, and he hit the firmest of shots inside the near post.
Tevez and Messi - more realistically - have both been hailed as the new Maradona. The old one led his country to their last World Cup triumph in 1986. Come 9 July it may not have been their last.Reuse content