Argentina continued life without Diego Maradona in fine fashion as they defeated European and world champions Spain.
Carlos Tevez was the creator for the early goals from Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain and the Manchester City striker scored a goal for himself before half-time.
Spain were beaten soundly in the first half and, even though Vicente del Bosque’s side put in a better performance in the second half and managed to score through Fernando Llorente, Argentina rounded off the scoring with a late Sergio Aguero header to send the Buenos Aires stadium into full-on party mode.
Spain managed to play some fringe players and still field a world-class team. Pepe Reina got a rare chance to play for his country, making only his twenty-first appearance for Spain, as Iker Casillas was given the night off by manager del Bosque. Cesc Fabregas was also given a starting berth, with Xavi absent from the starting eleven, while Osasuna left-back, Nacho Monreal, and Real Madrid right-back, Alvaro Arbeloa, were also given run-outs, with Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla both rested for what has, historically, been a well-fought game.
Argentina, with Sergio Batista at the helm, as caretaker manager, following the departure of Maradona, played a full-strength side, with Batista recalling Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti to the side, whilst also giving Everton target Ever Banega a chance to play alongside Barcelona new-boy, and Argentine captain, Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield. The lethal attacking force of Messi, Higuain and Tevez was adopted by Batista, and it was the latter of the trio who proved to be the constructive spark for Argentina early on.
Striker Tevez should have opened the scoring after six minutes when he was put through on goal, but the former Boca Juniors forward dragged a poor shot wide. Tevez was forced to leave the field soon after as a strong challenge from former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso caused the striker some considerable pain, but Tevez did return to the pitch to play a major part in Argentina’s first goal.
A fine ball through from the forward, who played a withdrawn-forward-role, with Messi and Higuain pushing forward on the flanks, found a pulsating Messi in the opposition penalty area. The Barcelona star cleverly lifted the ball over the onrushing frame of Reina and into the goal to give Batista’s side the lead over world-beating Spain.
The game was always going to be played at a fast pace with free-flowing football being promised by both sides. Within two minutes of the opening goal, Spain striker David Villa fired a free-kick over the bar, before Argentina doubled their lead.
Tevez was, again, the inventor, playing a superb ball through to Higuain, who raced away from his marker and, after rounding Reina, slid the ball home, managing to lift the ball just over Gerard Pique, who was desperately trying to stop the shot from crossing the line.
Barcelona’s new striker, Villa, was playing up front on his own against La Albiceleste, with Fernando Torres rested for the game. The former Valencia striker hit a superb strike towards goal just before the half-hour mark, cracking the post with what was a shot with his so-called weaker left foot. Spain looked promising going forward but it was in the other direction that they were being troubled.
A pass-back from Reina’s former Liverpool teammate, Arbeloa, seemed simple enough for Reina to clear up-field, but the ‘keeper lost his footing and, with Tevez menacing nearby, struggled to regain his composure. The Liverpool goalkeeper should have been quicker when standing up after what was an appalling mistake, leaving Tevez to slide in and put his side three-nil up at half-time.
Spain made changes at half-time, giving some more fringe players a chance. Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Llorente and Victor Valdes all came on straight after the break. Villarreal midfielder Cazorla and Sevilla winger Navas looked particularly menacing, with the latter causing former Manchester United left-back Gabriel Heinze some troubles as his crossing ability and sheer speed could not be contained by the Marseille man.
Llorente should have scored, just five minutes after coming, as Navas skipped past two Argentine defenders with great ease and put in an inviting cross, only for the Atletico Bilbao striker to header wide from close-range.
Spain and Argentina have both built reputations for nice, flowing football over the years, and the general play of the match was a delight to watch. A fine run from Messi down the wing, easing past players and leaving them in his wake, was halted by a Spanish defender, but the ball fell to Banega, who played a clever ball to Cambiasso on the edge of the box. A wonderful use of the heal from the Inter Milan player then found Higuain, who forced Barcelona goalkeeper, and Spanish third-choice ‘keeper, Valdes into a fantastic save, diving to his left to send the ball out for a corner.
Messi struggled to show his dazzling runs at the World Cup, a tournament that was, on the whole, a poor showing for most sides. The star, though, went on another venture from his own half after the hour-mark, jinking inside-and-out before passing to Angel di Maria, who finished brilliantly but was ruled, correctly, offside. The run, and the finish, deserved a goal, but the Real Madrid midfielder was denied his third international goal.
Cazorla has impressed in La Liga for a number of years and the twenty-five-year-old nearly scored what-would-have-been the best goal of the night, striking a dipping and swerving volley towards goal from the edge of the penalty area. The shot, though, was matched by a fantastic, one-handed save from Argentina ‘keeper Sergio Romero. The twenty-three-year-old looks to have solved the Argentine goalkeeping problem of recent years, as the AZ Alkmaar player put in a fine and comfortable performance, commanding his area well and pulling off some great saves when needed.
There was nothing he could do, though, with Spain’s first goal of the match. With six minutes to go the game was certainly over in terms of a contest, but, from a Cazorla pass inside the area, Llorente turned and shot in to the corner to score his fourth goal in ten appearances for Spain.
Argentina deserved the win, though, and Aguero, who came on as a substitute for Tevez late in the second half, was found by Heinze in the penalty area to expertly head home as the game entered injury time. Spain weren’t particularly poor, although their defence was nothing to be savoured, but Argentina were clearly the better team. Batista has done himself no harm in terms of getting the manager’s job full-time.