Pain of past defeats strengthens Mexican resolve, says Marquez

Argentina v Mexico, Tomorrow, 7.30, BBC1, Johannesburg

There is history, ancient and modern, running through this fixture and for Mexico there is a chance to avenge wounds that are still stamped on Javier Aguirre's squad and an injury few of them would be aware of.

Manchester United's newest signing, Javier Hernandez, might not know about Ulysses Sancedo but his grandfather, who played for Mexico in the 1954 tournament, would have done. Sancedo was a Bolivian referee who in the first World Cup of all took charge of Argentina's encounter with Mexico. He awarded five penalties and Argentina won 6-3. Observers suggested that two were probably justified.

Four years ago, in Leipzig, things were rather closer if no less hurtful for El Tri, who were attempting to reach the quarter-finals for the first time outside their own country. On this occasion, they took the lead through Rafael Marquez only to be pegged back and beaten in extra time by a side built not around Lionel Messi but Juan Riquelme, a playmaker that Diego Maradona very early on his reign ruled surplus to his requirements.

"We have changed our mentality since then," the Barcelona defender reflected. "We are stronger than we were before and now the attitude is: 'It's Argentina – so what?" In 2006, Maradona's predecessor, the rather more sober figure of Jose Pekerman, was criticised for failing to use the talents of the then 19-year-old Messi, particularly in the quarter-final defeat to Germany; a fixture that may be repeated in Cape Town, should England fail to overcome their greatest footballing enemy in Bloemfontein tomorrow.

It is not an error Maradona has any intention of repeating in Johannesburg, not least because Messi's talent is now so screamingly obvious, not least to his team-mate at Nou Camp, Marquez. In that sense, Mexico's tactics at Soccer City will be straightforward. "I know him pretty well," said Marquez with some understatement. "He is tough to play against and tougher to stop. We have to close down the space in which he operates quite simply because he is the best player in the world who can change the rhythm of a game at will."

Marquez is probably right to suggest, as he did, that "Argentina, defensively, are not that great". With the possible exception of Nigeria, who proved themselves distinctly wasteful in front of goal, Argentina have yet to meet an attack of real quality and in the shape of Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Arsenal's Carlos Vela, Mexico pack a youthful punch. Vela, who was taken off with a hamstring injury during Mexico's best display of the World Cup – a 2-0 win over France in Polokwane – is likely to return tomorrow night.

So too will Jonas Gutierrez, who represents one of Maradona's gambles, not least because he kept faith with a man relegated with Newcastle and then because he employed him as a wing-back in the opening two fixtures against Nigeria and South Korea before he was suspended. If, as Marquez suggested, Argentina's defence is its weakest point it has only conceded a single goal in three games.

At St James' Park, Gutierrez was known as "Spider Man" because of his habit of taking out a mask of the superhero whenever he scores – not that he needed to do it very much in the North-east.

In his native land, he is called more accurately "El Galgo" or "The Greyhound" because of his speed. He watched the game with Mexico four years ago on television and when Newcastle collapsed into the Championship, he was pretty sure he would be following the 2010 tournament the same way.

"I thought Mexico were the better team in Leipzig, until Maxi Rodriguez scored," he said. "But that is football. We were better than Germany in the quarters but we still went out. Diego's support was very important to me. Newcastle had just gone down to the second division and they didn't want to loan me out to anyone.

"I thought I'd have a real job making the squad but when I was called up for a friendly with Russia [in August] he told me not to worry – what mattered was how I was playing rather than what league I was playing in. That really helped."

Maradona's Regime: Steak, sex and swearing

Neil Clack

Food

The players are allowed to eat chocolate, ice cream and dulce de leche, a caramel pudding popular in Argentina, but Maradona knows where to draw the line. "Messi won't be drinking a carton of dulce de leche every day," he said. The squad will be having asados (meat barbeques), but in moderation.

Sex

In stark contrast to Capello's regime, Maradona permits sex with wives and girlfriends during the World Cup. But, in his words, "there's a big difference between sex with a stable partner – and with prostitutes at 2am with champagne".

Shopping

The players are allowed to splash some cash – they can go out on their own to hit the shops. Maradona says it's vital that the players lead as normal lives as possible during the World Cup. Happiness is essential.

Computer games

There is a limit on time spent on consoles within the complex. Instead, Maradona organises games and quizzes, in which everyone must participate as a group activity. He has also provided a reading room, with a range of inspirational books.

Humour

The Argentinian press reports that this is a very happy camp. Maradona is always at the centre of everything and provides plenty of laughs. The body language of the players would suggest that's true – they do seem to be smiling and laughing a lot in the press conferences and on the training ground.

Messi

Maradona has a special place for his "greatest player in the world". He worries about Messi's natural shyness. Maradona has had long chats with Pep Guardiola, the manager of Barcelona, and with Messi's parents, and has done his upmost to make the young star feel part of the squad, something that he felt was lacking before. Reports suggest that Messi has responded very positively to this treatment – even to the extent of barking orders and swearing on the training ground, of which Maradona very much approves.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate