Diego Maradona’s famous ‘hand of god’ repeatedly punched the air as Argentina moved closer to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday with a decisive 45-16 win over Tonga.
The portly football icon became chief cheerleader for the Pumas at Leicester’s Walkers Stadium as they again showed why they have become a force to reckon with.
Tries by Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Julian Montoya and Santiago Cordero – often with brilliant darting runs – sealed the result to Maradona’s joy.
The soccer star leapt to his feet with each score, arms flailing and embracing other spectators as the points mounted and Argentina sealed a bonus-point win.
The Pumas are now second in Pool C, four points behind leaders and reigning world champions New Zealand, who have already qualified.
Only an unlikely Tonga four-try win over the All Blacks next weekend can stop Argentina going into the last eight.
Kurt Morath’s sixth-minute try put Tonga ahead with a move he started and ended.
But his conversion attempt came off the posts at the start of a frustrating afternoon of kicking.
Tonga were soon behind and chasing the game.
The more accurate Sanchez kicked a penalty after 19 minutes and Tuculet got Argentina’s first try soon after, exposing the Pacific islanders’ defensive frailty.
Cordero picked up the ball in his own half for a powerful run and the ball reached Imhoff, who dummied one Tongan and darted between the posts. Maradona was in raptures as Sanchez converted.
Sanchez and Morath got more penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
But Tonga threatened a fightback when Telusa Veainu staged his own breakthrough on the wing and got the ball to Soane Tonga’uiha for their second try.
Morath pulled the conversion wide to the annoyance of coach Manakaetau ‘Otai.
Just after the hour, Sanchez got the ball 15 metres out, handed-off one opponent and burst through for Argentina’s third try.
Montoya touched down in the corner to get the key bonus point and Cordero secured the fifth try in stoppage time with Tonga already condemned to defeat.
Sanchez’s 25 points took him to 51 from three games, ahead of Japan’s Ayumu Goromaru as the tournament’s leading scorer.
Argentina, who beat South Africa in August as they claimed a new world-class scalp, need only avoid defeat against Namibia on October 11 to make sure of their quarter-final place.