Even minus Messi, Argentina proves too strong for Italy

Updated: 2013-08-16 07:50

By Agencies in Rome (China Daily)

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Argentina made light of the absence of injured striker Lionel Messi to beat Italy 2-1 in an entertaining friendly in Rome on Wednesday.

Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria was the catalyst as Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega scored the visitor's goals before Lorenzo Insigne replied for the Azzurri.

Dubbed the "Pope Francis match" because it pitted the home of the new pontiff against the country he technically resides in, this was an eagerly-anticipated encounter.

Although each side's top striker was missing - the injured Mario Balotelli sitting out for Italy - there was still much class on show.

Argentina opted for an attacking 4-3-3 lineup with Di Maria pulling the strings behind three Italy-based forwards in Napoli's Higuain, Rodrigo Palacio of Inter Milan and Roma's Erik Lamela.

The South Americans dominated the early stages at a half-full Olympic Stadium and Higuain put them ahead in the 20th minute with a curling shot after a sloppy error by Daniele De Rossi.

Argentina went up 2-0 when substitute Banega fired home a fierce low shot from the edge of the area just three minutes after coming on at the start of the second half.

Insigne pulled one back for Italy against the run of play with a sweetly-struck curling shot from outside the area in the 76th minute, setting up a spirited finale as the host finally exerted some pressure.

"All credit to this Argentina group; we were playing a team of great quality, one of the strongest," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said after the game. "We made some mistakes at the back and lacked a bit of fight."

Italy and Argentina have won six World Cups between them and are on course to qualify comfortably for next year's tournament in Brazil.

Italy, which hasn't beaten Argentina since 1987, often looked sluggish but also had some quality chances.

Palacio went close for Argentina just before the break after a textbook counterattack, and substitute goalkeeper Federico Marchetti prevented Italy going three down in the second half when he scrambled to block a close-range effort from Higuain.

(China Daily 08/16/2013 page23)