Rodriguez's wonder strike

Mexico played with a game plan of tight marking and stifling the creative passing game centred on Riquelme in the midfield. Argentina, as a result, struggled for much of the game before Rodriguez's spectacular volley sent them through, writes Peter Auf der Heyde.

Maxi Rodriguez volleyed a spectacular 98th-minute winner to rally Argentina past Mexico 2-1 and propel the South Americans into the quarterfinals against hosts Germany.

Favoured Argentina struggled for much of the game against the disciplined Mexicans in the 2006 World Cup's first extra-time game. Mexico crashed out in the round of 16 for the fourth time in a row.

"The match was even right up to the end. They're a very tough side," said Rodriguez, an Atletico Madrid midfielder who scored his third goal of the tournament. "And now we're up against one of the best teams." With Argentina seeking a third World Cup trophy, Mexico shocked them when right-back Rafael Marquez struck off a corner kick in the sixth minute, the first time the Argentines fell behind in this year's tournament.

They levelled in the 10th minute on a goal awarded to star striker Hernan Crespo, though Mexico's Jared Borgetti appeared to have deflected the ball into his own net off a corner.

Substitute Lionel Messi found the net in the dying minutes but the teenager's apparently regular goal was disallowed for offside, leaving both sides knotted 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Argentina finally pressed forward in the first extra-time period and Rodriguez slammed home a volley from the corner of the area after chesting down a cross from left by captain Juan Sorin.

Mexico, who have reached the quarterfinals only during the two World Cups played on home soil, were left lamenting missed chances.

"We had our chances, but we couldn't finish," Mexico's dejected Marquez said. "We played our hearts out, and now the whole country will be sad."

A physically superb Mexico held Argentina at bay with a game plan of tight marking and stifling the creative passing game centred on Juan Roman Riquelme in midfield. In the VIP stand, 1986 World Cup hero Diego Maradona at one point could not bear watching and ducked behind the seat in front of him. Later he tried to relax by smoking a cigar.

Mexico began explosively when Pavel Pardo lifted in a corner, Mario Mendez headed on and Marquez slid in at the far post to poke the ball into the net.

Argentina clawed back quickly on a corner of their own when Crespo and Borgetti rose together and Mexico goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez was beaten at point-blank range.

Borgetti almost made amends for his part in Argentina's equaliser, taking a 14th-minute through ball from Jose Fonseca and escaping two defenders before his shot was deflected.

Crespo came close for Argentina in the 23rd minute when he powered into the area alone and clipped the ball just wide of the far post over the onrushing Sanchez.

Borgetti exploited a hole in Argentina's suspect central defence in the 25th minute to unleash a right-footed drive from the top of the area that Roberto Abbondanzieri stretched to palm away. Tempers flared in first-half injury time when Fonseca was floored in the Argentine half by Gabriel Heinze after the Manchester United defender let a goal kick trickle into the Mexican forward's path.

Just after half-time, Borgetti was within easy range and only a high bounce kept him from connecting at point blank range.

Then Argentina turned on the heat. A Riquelme free kick in the 57th minute found Maxi Rodriguez at the far post, but Sanchez palmed the Atletico Madrid midfielder's bouncing shot over the crossbar.

Then Javier Saviola beat the offside trap on a Riquelme pass and squeezed off a screaming shot with the outside of his right foot that tested goalkeeper Sanchez again.

But the rally faded and with a quarterfinals trip at stake, both sides settled into a tactical game to seek a decisive second goal.

Seeking fresh punch up front, Argentina coach Jose Pekerman took off Crespo and Esteban Cambiasso in the 75th minute and sent on muscular forward Carlos Tevez and FC Valencia's Pablo Aimar.

When the game went into extra time, the pair sparked Argentina's stifled attack and for the first time in half hour seriously troubled the Mexicans. However, it was Sorin who set up Rodriguez for the decisive shot, an unstoppable volley that ripped into the far top corner of Sanchez's net.

ARGENTINA'S UNLIKELY HERO

In a side filled with first-class strikers Maximiliano Rodriguez is an unlikely hero. While players like Javier Saviola, Hernan Crespo and, of course, Lionel Messi have grabbed most of the headlines, Rodriguez has been getting down to doing the work on the field. Rodriguez started his professional career with Newell's Old Boys before moving to Spain, where he joined Real Zaragosa. He then moved to Espanyol before joining his current club Atletico Madrid after playing in last year's Confederations Cup in Germany.

He arrived in Germany for the World Cup finals very much in the background to such stars as Messi, Riquelme, Gabriel Heinze and Crespo.

In Argentina's 6-0 drubbing of Serbia & Montenegro in the group phase the 25-year-old, who can play both as an offensive midfielder or a striker, grabbed two of the goals for his side. Although he scored just one goal against Mexico, he was the darling of the fans as his 98th minute strike was enough to seal a 2-1 comeback victory for his side.

That he can score goals should come as no surprise. In 2001 Rodriguez played in the Argentine side that won the under-20 World Cup. He scored four goals in the process, including one in the final.

His spectacular volley against Mexico was his third in this tournament and he would love nothing more than to repeat his 2001 achievements by scoring another _ in the final!

DPA