The teams met in England on March 23, 2018, in a friendly encounter as Argentina prepare for the World Cup while Italy look to pick up the pieces after going out to Sweden in the play-offs. There were no notable absentees for Luigi Di Biaggio’s side, while Jorge Sampaoli had to make do without the injured duo of stars – Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
An evenly balanced first half
Italy came into the match strong and created a half-chance within a minute, but the attack ended with a foul. The Argentines gave their best to remain calm and played patiently out from the back, and returned the danger with a long attack ending with a decent shot by Angel Di Maria from the edge of the box, but Gianluigi Buffon had no problems with it.
Given the game wasn’t a competitive one, both teams played openly, looking for any possiblity to get forward, the Italians a bit more directly, not fearing to try a long pass towards Ciro Immobile. They also pressed higher up, trying to make the opponent’s short passing as difficult as possible.
Both teams were tactically disciplined, but the passing perhaps a bit disappointing. There were quite a few displaced ones from both teams.
The first real opportunity to score came in the 16th minute, when Nicolas Otamendi jumped highest after a corner and headed on target, but not well enough to beat Buffon.
At this point, Argentina established a slight domination. The ball was spending more time in their possession and in the opposition half, but due to a mix of occasionally poor passing and the organized defending of the Azzuri, all they had to show for it were a couple of set-pieces in promising positions that came to nothing. Di Maria was extremely active in attack, while Marco Veratti and Leonardo Bonucci stood out defensively.
Italy didn’t seem worried at all. They were successfully stifling Argentina’s attacks and constantly looked to get forward in numbers. Their passing however left a lot to be desired.
In the 37th minute, a mistake by Jorginho gave the Argentines a good chance, but Buffon was quick off his line and dealt with the matter with an authoritative sliding tackle.
In the last five minutes of the half, Argentina went all out to take the lead.
First, Leandro Paredes smacked one from range and it went slightly wide, while Buffon had the corner covered. Two minutes before the break, a good attack ended with a strong shot from the left by Nicolas Tagliafico. Sixty seconds later, Gonzalo Higuain got in behind Alessandro Florenzi inside the box and broke out one-on-one with Buffon, but the Juventus goalkeeper beat his club teammate with a fantastic save from close range.
A lively second half
The teams came out for the second half without any changes, but the game looked far livelier than before.
Three minutes in, an inexplicable mistake by Paredes allowed Immobile to put Lorenzo Insigne one-on-one with Willy Caballero in Argentina’s goal, but Insigne somehow missed the target from 10 yards. Argentina immediately threatened at the other end but Manuel Lanzini failed to hit the target with a header after Di Maria whipped in a good cross.
In the 57th minute Di Maria tried from range but Buffon was once again impeccable, and Caballero returned the favor less than a minute later after Federico Chiesa squared a dangerous ball across the six-yard box, and once again soon afterwards when Veratti’s fabulous pass found the run of Immobile behind Argentina’s back line. Antonio Candreva, who had replaced Chiesa on the hour mark, blasted one from range in his first involvement but Caballero was good again. In the 68th minute Insigne broke through once again, but there was no way past the Argentina ‘keeper.
It was definitely a game for the Chelsea backup shot-stopper to prove his worth and secure his place in the World Cup.
Argentina then came back into life again, and Perotti hit one from the edge of the box with just under 20 minutes to go, but it went over the bar.
But the South Americans seemed to have snapped out the stupor that had allowed Italy to threaten seriously on several occasions earlier, and were moving their lines forward. And in the 75th minute, Banega stole the ball, played a simple one-two with Giovani Lo Celso and shot to the bottom corner from the edge of the box, catching Buffon on the wrong foot. 1-0.
Quite unconcerned, Italy continued playing their game, but Argentina grew in composure and confidence after taking the lead. Just as the Azzurri attacked five minutes from time, they lost the ball and Higuain lead a counterattack, charging towards Bonucci and Rugani with Lanzini on the left and Perotti on the right. He eventually opted for Lanzini, and the West Ham player took a fantastic shot to the near top corner. Buffon flew through the air, but there was no way to deny Lanzini. 2-0.
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli will be pleased with the performance his team put in, as well as with his own tactical approach. Without their two biggest stars, one of whom is arguably the best player on the planet, they played well and overall deserved to beat a very good Italy side. A good step towards preparing the team for the World Cup.
Having failed to qualify for the tournament, Italy will also be pleased that they played a good game, and it will give them a boost in their attempt to rise from the ashes.
Argentina: Caballero 9, Tagliafico 7, Bustos 7 (89’ Mercado N/A), Otamendi 7.5, Fazio 7.5, Paredes 6.5 (64’ Banega 8), Biglia 6.5, Di Maria 8 (64’ Perotti 7.5), Lanzini 7.5, Lo Celso 7 (77’ Pavon N/A), Higuain 7.5.
Italy: Buffon 8, Florenzi 7 (61’ Zappacosta N/A), De Sciglio 7, Bonucci 7.5, Rugani 7, Veratti 8 (71’ Cristante 6), Jorginho 5.5 (85’ Belotti N/A), Parolo 6.5 (61’ Pellegrini 7), Chiesa 7 (61’ Candreva 7), Insigne 6.5, Immobile 7(74’ Cutrone N/A).
Goals: Banega 75’, Lanzini 85’.
Yellow cards: None.
Red cards: None.
Referee: Martin Atkinson, England.
Venue: The Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England.
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