Lorenzo Insigne scored a magnificent senior Italy debut, but new Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain gave Argentina a 2-1 victory.
This prestigious friendly was organised in honour of Pope Francis, who is Argentinean of Italian origin, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Both teams visited the Vatican yesterday, while they travelled to the stadium together from the same hotel as a sign of friendship and camaraderie.
Mario Balotelli, Andrea Barzagli and Lionel Messi pulled out with injuries, but Marco Verratti was given the midfield reins rather than Andrea Pirlo. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, who was born in Buenos Aires, returned to the Azzurri after he was dropped from the Confederations Cup squad for insulting the Roma Coach. Argentina had several Serie A based stars in the starting XI, including Lazio’s Lucas Biglia, Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio and Hugo Campagnaro, Erik Lamela of Roma and Napoli hitman Gonzalo Higuain.
The teams hadn’t met since Argentina’s 2-1 friendly win in Rome in February 2001, while Italy’s last win was back in June 1987.
Daniele De Rossi was used as a centre-back, but did brilliantly after five minutes when intercepting a dangerous pass for Higuain, dribbling out of his own penalty area and launching an attack for Osvaldo. Moments later Higuain got past De Rossi, but Giorgio Chiellini’s sliding tackle on his 29th birthday cut him off.
Angel Di Maria and Emanuele Giaccherini had shots charged down, but De Rossi’s pass was intercepted by Palacio, who set up Higuain’s scorching finish from the edge of the box.
Osvaldo was held up when clear on goal by an incorrect offside flag, as Ezequiel Garay was just about keeping him level. The Roma striker also just failed to get on the end of a Candreva cross to the back post.
Candreva set up Claudio Marchisio at the near post, but the Juventus man only scuffed his finish from four yards.
Chiellini did just about enough to stop Higuain getting his shot away after a run into the box, then Argentina went on the counter from an Italy free kick and Palacio came sliding in to balloon over from six yards on Di Maria’s assist.
Moments later Osvaldo wasted with a horrible finish over the bar, then he met a Christian Maggio assist from five yards but Federico Fernandez performed a decisive block.
Cesare Prandelli introduced Lorenzo Insigne, Alessandro Florenzi and Alberto Aquilani for the second half, two players fresh from the Under-21 squad.
Ever Banega came on for Argentina and scored with one of his first touches. Higuain went on a rapid counter-attack and rolled across for the unmarked Valencia midfielder’s fierce shot from the edge of the area.
Federico Marchetti replaced Gigi Buffon and immediately performed a miracle, fingertipping away a Palacio angled shot and Higuain’s follow-up from point-blank range.
Federico Fernandez put Alessandro Diamanti’s free kick out for a corner by anticipating Chiellini’s header from five yards.
Diamanti had a fantastic opportunity on 67 minutes when one of his trademark free kicks ricocheted off the crossbar, then Aquilani put in the back of the net from a clear offside position.
Another Chiellini header was deflected just over the bar as Alessio Cerci came on with Italy changing to a three-man defence.
Italy were increasing the pressure and got one back with a magnificent Insigne finish. The 22-year-old Napoli talent curled an unstoppable remote-controlled shot into the far top corner past a flailing Andujar. It was his first senior Italy goal on only the second cap.
Di Maria got past Verratti on the counter and should’ve scored, but Marchetti held his ground to smother the shot one-on-one. At the other end Insigne’s effort was deflected over after a series of dummies.
Cerci couldn’t keep his header down from a curling Diamanti cross, but Ricky Alvarez hit the side-netting on another Argentina counter-attack. Diamanti’s through ball sent Luca Antonelli clear, but Andujar smothered at his feet.
Marchetti impressed again in his home stadium with a one-handed save on the Maxi Rodriguez rocket. A corner was pulled back for Florenzi and the shot deflected over for another set-play in stoppages, but Argentina held on for the victory.
The Azzurri continued their poor summer credentials, having won just one August match in the last seven years.
Italy 1-2 Argentina
Scorers: Higuain 20 (A), Banega 49 (A), Insigne 76 (I)
Italy: Buffon (Marchetti 54); Maggio (Cerci 71), De Rossi, Chiellini, Antonelli; Montolivo (Aquilani 46), Verratti, Marchisio (Florenzi 46); Candreva (Insigne 46), Giaccherini (Diamanti 54); Osvaldo
Argentina: Andujar; Campagnaro, F Fernandez, Garay (Coloccini 71), Basanta; Di Maria (Alvarez 81), Mascherano (Maxi Rodriguez 75), Biglia; Lamela (Banega 46), Higuain (Lavezzi 61), Palacio (A Fernandez 89)
Ref: Stark (GER)