Argentina will face their fiercest rivals world champions Brazil in the Confederations Cup final after beating Mexico 6-5 on penalties in the semi-final on Sunday.
A poor match which ended 1-1 after a hugely disappointing 120 minutes, flickered briefly into life at the very end of normal time with a double dismissal — and finally tipped Argentina’s way in the shoot-out after the first 10 penalties were all converted.
Argentina will now face Brazil for the second time this month after beating them 3-1 on June 8 to qualify for the World Cup finals back in Germany next year.
They gained the initiative on Sunday after Mexican defender Ricardo Osorio missed the 11th penalty when Argentina keeper German Lux saved low to his right. That meant if Argentina scored with their next effort they were through.
Esteban Cambiasso duly obliged with a well-struck shot to give them victory after Mexico had finally broken the deadlock in the 104th minute.
Carlos Salcido scored after a solo run from the halfway line down the left, evading two tackles before curling home a well-executed shot.
His shot took a deflection off Argentina’s Fabricio Coloccini, jeered every time he touched the ball after a wild challenge laid out Ramon Morales after 69 minutes which earned the shaggy-hair defender an immediate yellow card.
But six minutes later Luciano Figueroa equalised for Argentina, doing well to control the ball which appeared to be running behind him, and then forcing in a shot from close range which squirmed past the defenders and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez and just went over the line.
That was his fourth goal of the competition, putting him top of the scorer’s list with Australian John Aloisi.
Both teams finished the scrappy game with 10 men after Italian referee Roberto Rosetti sent off Argentina’s Javier Saviola in the 90th minute for a high and late challenge on Mexico’s Gonzalo Pineda.
Three minutes later he showed the red card to Mexico’s Rafael Marquez for a challenge on Pablo Aimar.
They were the first players sent off in the 14 matches played in the tournament so far and Saviola will be suspended from Wednesday’s final in Frankfurt. Marquez, too, will miss Mexico’s playoff against Germany for third place in Leipzig earlier on Wednesday.
Although the match ended in a draw, Mexico ended the day as losers for the first time in 21 matches since Brazil beat them in the Copa America last July.
But Mexico had what better chances there were during normal time and went close to scoring after 55 minutes when Zinha worked himself into space and crashed in a powerful shot from 20-metres which hit Lux’s right-hand post.
Although Mexico started the better team on a hot night, the match soon became bogged down with both sides looking ineffective and tired in midfield.
Defences dominated and both sets of forwards wasted what few scoring chances they did get.
Mexico, as is their forte, continually had seven or eight men in defence and Argentina could barely conjure the invention to find a way through.
After some of the superb football played over the last 10 days, this looked a match too far for both teams and the crowd soon became too bored even to perform to the Mexican wave.
Javier Zanetti was one man who had a fine match winning his 100th cap for Argentina, while Salcido caught the eye for Mexico.
Mexico’s Argentine-born coach Ricardo La Volpe said his team lost momentum after Marquez was red carded.
“We had problems when Marquez was sent off. That made it difficult for us and it was tough to withstand Argentina and we were also getting tired.
“When you are one goal up against a team like Argentina, you have to do a lot of work to keep them out of your half and Argentina kept up the pressure and equalised.”
Argentine coach Jose Pekerman said: “We came back, we never lost hope. We scored, we drew and we won. Later on we will look at our footballing result. I agree it was not a great match but we fought hard.”
FIFA dedicated the match to the memory of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe who died two years ago to the day after collapsing while playing for Cameroon against Colombia in a Confederations Cup semi-final in Lyon, France.