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Mexico prepare to counter Messi factor

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PRETORIA (Reuters) -- Mexico fear that a first goal at this World Cup from Argentina's Lionel Messi in the second round on Sunday could dash their hopes of revenge for their defeat by the same opponents at the same stage four years ago.

Argentina, who won the 2006 meeting 2-1 after extra time, and Mexico meet at Soccer City (1830 GMT) outside Johannesburg looking for a place in the quarter-finals against England or Germany.

Barcelona club mates Messi and Rafael Marquez, who scored Mexico's early opener in that match in Leipzig, come face to face again after the Argentine came on as a substitute near the end of normal time on his 19th birthday.

"We know it's difficult to get the ball off him, he's so quick and can change direction or pace at any time," Marquez said on Friday. "(Argentina) have the best player in the world."

Messi has never been on the losing side in three meetings with Mexico and scored a superb goal in the 3-0 victory at the 2007 Copa America and another in a 4-1 win in a friendly in San Diego two years ago.

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Yet to get off the mark in South Africa although he has created a string of chances and hit the woodwork twice, Messi's sole World Cup goal to date was in the 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.

Coach Diego Maradona, when comparing his impact in 1986 to Messi's now, reeled off a list of Argentine scorers at the Mexico finals and said "I came to the team's aid when they needed me" suggesting Messi will do the same.

Argentina's attack have been scintillating and with Mexico also expected to retain a three-man attack, it should be as good an encounter as that four years ago when Hernan Crespo equalised and Maxi Rodriguez volleyed an extra-time winner voted goal of the tournament.

"Defensively, (Argentina) are not the best, they have a great attack but their weakness is on the flanks. We must plan the game properly to play our best," Marquez told reporters.

Jonas Gutierrez, likely to return on the right of Argentina's defence after serving a suspension, said he was comfortable whether he had Juan Sebastian Veron or Rodriguez playing in front of him.