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Diego Maradona looks on as Argentina cruise to World Cup victory over Tonga

Published 04/10/2015

Diego Maradona shows his support for Argentina in their World Cup victory over Tonga
Diego Maradona shows his support for Argentina in their World Cup victory over Tonga

Argentina took a huge step to the World Cup quarter-finals with a comprehensive win over Tonga in front of football great Diego Maradona.

The Pumas lived dangerously early on against the combative Sea Eagles but a blistering four minutes in the first half proved decisive to seal a 45-16 victory in Leicester.

Maradona, who inspired his country to victory in the football World Cup in 1986, saw Juan Imhoff become the Pumas' all-time Rugby World Cup top tryscorer when he went over during an incisive break and Nicolas Sanchez also scored 26 points.

Kurt Morath missed four kicks for Tonga before Argentina hit cruise control in the final 10 minutes thanks to tries from Julian Montoya and Santiago Cordero.

Victory over Namibia in their final Pool C game would see Argentina claim the runners-up spot behind New Zealand with Tonga's hopes hanging by a thread ahead of their final game against the All Blacks.

Both sides were eyeing qualification ahead of the game and Tonga named the oldest starting side in World Cup history at 31 years and 38 days.

It was the first ever meeting in the competition between the sides and Tonga made their presence felt early on, scoring a seventh-minute try through Morath.

The fly-half then hit the post with his conversion but the signs were ominous for Argentina and they were almost shocked again when Sonatane Takulua burst through only to fumble the ball under pressure five metres short of the line.

But Daniel Hourcade's side went into overdrive and pummelled Tonga into submission in a devastating four-minute spell.

First Sanchez kicked a penalty before the Pumas scored two converted tries in three minutes.

Immediately from the restart Argentina won the ball and targeted Tonga's right flank and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe bulldozed his way through for Joaquin Tuculet to run over the line.

Sanchez added the kick before a piece of history was created as Imhoff became the Pumas' leading World Cup tryscorer when a sharp move saw the winger race over after a neat dummy.

Again the deadly Sanchez converted before scoring another penalty to move Argentina 20-5 clear as the King Power Stadium, and Maradona, exploded into life.

The 54-year-old was conducting the chanting from his seat but his celebrations were tempered by Morath's penalty eight minutes before half -time.

It kept the Sea Eagles in touch but they still struggled against the threat of Imhoff and Tuculet and the duo wasted a fine chance for a third try when Tuculet opted to kick for his team-mate and the ball bounced out of play.

It was a sign of their confidence but came back to haunt them as Morath kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit before prop Soane Tonga'uiha pulled it back to 20-13 three minutes before the break.

Tonga needed a review but Telusa Veainu offloaded the ball in the corner brilliantly just before being tackled into touch to allow Tonga'uiha to pounce.

Morath missed his kick but traded penalties with Sanchez after the break before the Tongan fly-half missed another two penalties to blow their chances of a revival.

Instead, Sanchez's boot kicked Argentina 26-16 ahead but the second half lacked the excitement and flow of the first.

Sanchez did eventually inject some urgency into the game as the Pumas took total control when he dummied and darted over the line before missing his conversion.

And with eight minutes left Montoya bundled over in the corner - although Argentina needed a review for confirmation - before Cordero sealed a comfortable victory.

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