Maracaibo:One came to Venezuela as an invited guest, the other as the tournament favorite.
A vast gap in experience separates Mexico and 14-time South American champion Argentina, two teams that play in the Copa America semifinals on Wednesday in Puerto Ordaz on a goal-scoring roll.
With victories over the United States, Colombia and Paraguay and a 4-0 quarterfinal romp over Peru, Argentina sailed into the semifinals as the only team with a perfect record and with a tournament-best 13 goals - four of them by midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme.
But in the semis, it will run up against a rejuvenated Mexican team inspired by several big wins of its own.
The winner will travel to Maracaibo for Sunday's final against Brazil or Uruguay, who were to play in Tuesday's other semifinal.
Coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss to the United States in the CONACAF Gold Cup final, Mexican coach Hugo Sanchez' team arrived to Venezuela with morale running low.
Its spirits quickly rebounded after "El Tri" upset five-time World Cup champion Brazil 2-0 in its Copa America opener. After beating Ecuador and tying Chile to finish atop Group B, Mexico was led by newcomer Nery Castillo's two goals in a 6-0 rout of Paraguay to advance to the semifinals against Argentina.
Castillo's four tournament goals have been the motor of the Aztec offense after all-time leading scorer Jared Borgetti was sent home before the first match due to a nagging leg injury sustained in the Gold Cup final. But Castillo, a forward for Greece's Olympiakos, is himself in doubt for the semifinal due to an ankle injury suffered against Paraguay.
"There's little possibility he'll recover in time, but I haven't lost all hope," Sanchez said. "But for whoever takes his place, we're on a roll and the team will perform well."
Mexico has flirted with a Copa title before, having qualified for the semis in four of its six previous appearances since its first invitation in 1993. But the Mexicans lost in two previous finals appearances, against Argentina in 1995 and host Colombia in 2001, and have defeated Argentina only four times in 24 international meetings, the last a 1-0 first-round win in the 2004 Copa.
On confidence alone, "El Tri" would already be champion.
Before the quarterfinal matchup against Paraguay, Sanchez predicted his team would win and sounded similarly emboldened on the eve of the matchup against Argentina.
"We've reached our goal of making it to the semifinals," Sanchez said. "Our prestige as a team is growing every day."
Argentina is accustomed to playing in big matches, and coach Alfio Basile considers the patience shown in come-from-behind victories against the United States and Colombia to be one of the greatest virtues of the "Albiceleste." Basile previously coached Argentine to championships at the 1991 and 1993 Copa America.
Argentina brought its biggest Europe-based talent to Venezuela on hopes of claiming the country's 15th title and snapping a tie with Uruguay for the most tournament wins.
Almost as if scripted, the lineup of attackers such as Riquelme, Lionel Messi of Spain's Barcelona and Carlos Tevez of English Premier League's West Ham hasn't disappointed.
"We play patiently," Basile said, "moving our rivals all over the field until they get tired and we start filling the scoreboard."