Half a dozen goals! Truth to tell, I never thought Iíll see a 6-0 scoreline in the 2006 World Cup finals. Poor Serbia and Montenegro, they were hit by a tornado and simply blown out of sight. Argentina should actually have got a seventh one had Crespo not been wrongly adjudged off-side.
It was a very special performance by Maradonaís countrymen, no wonder the great man was so ecstatic in the stands. On display was sublime individual skill, great finishing, a great young talent in Messi, but above all, we saw a mind-boggling exhibition of team game and passing. There were several occasions when the Argentines played 25-30 passes involving six-seven players before finally having a crack at the Serbian goal.
Consider, for example, the second goal. A total of 24 passes were played before Cambiasso fired a left-footer past the Serbian keeper. It started with Kezman losing possession to Mascherano inside the Serbian half.
The long-haired Sorin brought Riquelme, Cambiasso into play before the ball moved into the Serbian dangerzone. The last four passes involved Saviola, Cambiasso and Crespo (a delightful back-heel). Without an iota of doubt, it was the finest move of this tournament. In fact, it was a one-in-1000 combination play which resulted in a memorable goal.
The first goal came as early as in the fifth minute, Saviola taking a Sorin square pass and slipping in a gem of a through ball for Maxi Rodriguez to push in from 10 yards.
The Serbian defence was at its witsí end. They panicked and crashed like a pack of cards. The second goal was a case in point. Left-back Krstajic was in control but yielded possession to the hard-running Saviola, who went for goal from an acute angle. The ball was partially cleared and Maxi Rodriguez shot in.
Goal Nos. 5 and 6 also could have been avoided. Tevez, who impressed in his short second-half stint, overcame two tackles before beating the goalie with a fine placement. One of the defenders should have stopped Tevez. Then, Messi scored on debut with an intelligent off-the-ball run, but his shot should have been kept out by the keeper who let the ball go through his legs.
Messi, who wonít be 19 before next week, came on for the last 15 minutes and showed why he is already a rage in Argentina and Barcelona. Within three minutes of being introduced, he delivered a killer left-footed pass which Crespo scored off. A second ball went abegging before Messi himself got into the scoresheet.
For a team which had conceded no more than a solitary goal in the qualifying campaign, the Serbian surrender was hard to believe. The likes of Kezman and Milosevic seemed to be playing from memory. Kezmanís red card, for a two-footed challenge on Mascherano, was a reflection of his growing frustration.
The defence, flat-footed to start with, got increasingly shell-shocked. The only one in white shirts to make some kind of an impact was Djordjevic, who orchestrated a handful of attacks early in the second half.
Having seen the Argentine artistry wide-eyed, I must say I didnít expect them to play this kind of football before the quarter-final stage. As a coach, I wouldnít have liked my team to show all the cards so early in a long tournament. I just hope Argentina donít peak too early. Pekerman will have to be on his guard.