Carlos Tevez struck twice as Diego Maradona's unbeaten Argentina swept relentlessly into the quarter-finals last night to set up a mouth-watering encounter with Germany in Cape Town next weekend in a repeat of their meeting four years ago.
The Manchester City striker for once outshone Lionel Messi though just as in Bloemfontein a few hours earlier, the second game of the day was marred by a hugely controversial refereeing call that wrongly allowed Tevez's opening goal and incensed the ultimately vanquished Mexicans who were on top at the time.
Ahead of the finals, Maradona was not in any danger of being favourably compared to Jose Mourinho after his team's dire displays in qualifying. Now, the Argentina manager has not only put together a run of results but seems to have taken the same approach to hype and expectation as the Champions League-winning Internazionale former manager.
While pre-match press conferences with other coaches have been relatively routine, Maradona's have been ticket-only affairs, full of Mourinho-like unpredictabilty, a ploy designed in part to deflect attention from his squad.
The game, played in a strong wind, certainly had something to live up to when compared to the meeting between the sides at the same stage four years ago. The most technically impressive fixture of the 2006 tournament, Argentina won it in extra time before losing to Germany in the quarters.
They were hoping for a repeat performance last night but what a let-off they had early on – two, in fact. First Carlos Salcido thumped a sumptuous effort against the bar, then Andres Guardada fired narrowly wide.
The Mexican coach, Javier Aguirre, had gone on record as saying he wanted revenge for that defeat in Leipzig. Although Messi had a couple of half-chances to open his World Cup account, it was Aguirre's team who almost opened the scoring again through Manchester United-bound Javier Hernandez. Argentina took time to settle but it was they who went in front on 26 minutes amid huge controversy.
Tevez looked miles offside when he headed in Messi's chip and the goal was only allowed to stand after referee Roberto Rosetti conferred with his linesman. They could see from a replay on the big screen that the decision was wrong but were not allowed under the rules to change their minds.
The Mexicans were furious, just as England had been a few hours earlier albeit under different circumstances. And just like England, they lost concentration and fell further behind. Ricardo Osorio inexplicably played a loose ball across defence and promptly played in Gonzalo Higuain, who couldn't believe his luck as he rounded Oscar Perez before slotting home.
Mexico's early flourish suddenly counted for nothing and only a one-handed stop by Perez prevented Angel di Maria from adding a third. As Rosetti blew for half-time, he was surrounded by an aggrieved Mexican bench before being shepherded to safety by stewards.
With their World Cup hopes fading, Mexico resorted to Pablo Barrera at the interval. They poured forward just as they had at the start of the match, only to quickly concede again, this time to a piece of individual brilliance. Not from Messi who , despite his usual sublime control, had had a quiet night by own high standards, but from Tevez.
The Manchester City striker seemed determined to be remembered for something special rather than just his questionable first-half goal. He cut inside two defenders and lashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner from almost 30 yards that Perez probably didn't even see.
Cue a massive bear hug from Maradona, who knew that this was the goal that would maintain his side's South African journey after such a troubled qualifying campaign and keep him on course to become only the second person after Franz Beckenbauer to lift the World Cup as a player and manager.
Hernandez, who scored the first in Mexico's 2-0 win over France, sent a header just over the bar as the men in green sought a lifeline and on came West Ham's Guillermo Franco for one last throw of the dice.
Tevez was given another hug as he gave way to Juan Veron with 20 minutes to go but Mexico weren't done yet. As Argentina sat back, Hernandez, who seems an astute signing by Alex Ferguson, found a yard of space before rifling home to reduce the deficit.
Marquez almost fashioned another for Mexico, only for Heinze to clear off the line, but the last attack of the evening saw Messi come within a whisker of his first goal of the tournament, Perez leaping to his right to save.
Argentina (4-3-2-1): Romero; Otamendi, Demichelis, Burdisso, Heinze; Mascherano, Rodriguez (Pastore 87), Di Maria (Gutierrez 80); Tevez (Veron 69), Messi; Higuain.
Mexico (4-3-2-1): Perez; Osorio, Rodriguez, Marquez, Salcido; Juarez, Torrado, Guardado (Franco 63); Giovani, Bautista (Barrera 46); Hernandez.
Referee R Rosetti (Italy).Reuse content