Despite the absence of World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Argentina still had too much for Italy on Wednesday, winning 2-1 in Rome. Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria was the catalyst as Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega scored the visitors' goals before Lorenzo Insigne replied for the Azzurri.
Dubbed the "Pope Francis" match, as 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 line-up 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. Higuain opened the scoring on 20 minutes before Palacio missed a great chance to double the advantage after Di Maria put the ball on a silver platter. Banega replaced Lamela at half-time and within four minutes had indeed stretched the visitors' advantage after a fine pass from Higuain.
But while their attacking play was at times irresistible, Alejandro Sabella's team's defense is their Achilles Heel, struggling against a weakened Italy forward line. With Argentine-born striker Pablo Osvaldo foraging alone up front, a packed midfield behind him could rarely cause alarm in Argentina's insecure defense.
Osvaldo did at least supply the decisive pass to set up Insigne's consolation 14 minutes from time, although he never threatened himself. It said a lot of Italy's attacking play that Antonio Candreva was their most potent threat with a couple of good passes that neither Claudio Marchisio nor Osvaldo could exploit.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli had made a bold selection before kick-off, picking Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti from the start and dropping back Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi into central defense. Yet it was a mix-up between the pair that presented Higuain with the opening goal.
Although the hosts improved after the break, they needed replacement goalkeeper Federico Marchetti to produce a fine double-stop to deny Palacio and Higuain, before also saving from Maxi Rodriguez.