SAN DIEGO -- Sven-Goran Eriksson -- "Senor Sven" to his new friends -- must surely have thought he was in Mexico City or Guadalajara on Wednesday night.
It couldn't have been Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego's Mission Valley, not with 68,498 fans jamming the place to the skyline. Not with all the red, white and green on display, not with the thunderous chants of "Si se puede" (roughly "Yes we can") shaking the venerable stadium to its foundations.
But Qualcomm Stadium it was, and it was not long before Mexico's new national soccer coach was made to realize the scope of the task in front of him.
Argentina, ranked No. 1 in the world and featuring the planet's best player, Lionel Messi -- Cristiano Ronaldo fans would argue the point -- scored twice inside the first 18 minutes and three times in the first half hour en route to a 4-1 victory over El Tri in the highest-profile match played in California in years.
Both teams are preparing for World Cup qualifying games later this month, and it is clear that Argentina already is in rare form.
It is exactly two years until the 2010 tournament in South Africa, and Argentina Coach Alfio Basile has made his intentions very clear.
"Argentina's target is to win the World Cup, that's the end of the matter," he said in a recent radio interview in Buenos Aires. "Argentina has amazing prestige, the team is admired all around the world and that makes us very proud. But we want to win the World Cup."
The last time Argentina did that was in Mexico in 1986. Four years later, at Italia '90, the Argentines again reached the final but lost to West Germany.
In the 18 years since then, Argentina has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals. But no one questions whether the Albicelestes have the talent, and on a damp Wednesday night they put it on a display.
Mexico was missing two of its most influential defensive players, VfB Stuttgart midfielder Pavel Pardo and Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez.
Even so, Messi and Co. tore a very representative Mexican team to shreds. The Argentines' combination play was exceptional, with Barcelona's Messi and the Atletico Madrid duo of Maxi Rodriguez and Sergio "Kun" Aguero in top form.
Argentina's goals came in rapid order. Nicolas Burdisso nabbed the first at 10:45; Messi scored at 17:24, finishing off a superlative passing move, and Rodriguez scored at 29:21.
Brazilian-born Antonio "Zinha" Naelson scored for Mexico in the second half before Aguero scored off a pass by Messi.