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SPORTS | 01-06-2022 22:02

Argentina’s Scaloneta leaves Italy shellshocked

The road to Qatar has begun in perfect fashion, with a new piece of silverware and Argentina's first-ever victory on English soil.

They might have been thousands of kilometres from home, in the backyard of one of their heroes' fiercest rivals to boot; but Argentina's fervent support turned Wembley into a corner of Buenos Aires or Rosario on Wednesday night by packing the stands of the venerable home of English football and making their voices heard. On the pitch, Lionel Messi and his band of brothers made sure they would not go home disappointed.

To put it simply, the Scaloneta put on a masterclass in north London to leave Italy shellshocked, winning 3-0 in a game which could have ended with an even more emphatic scoreline in favour of the Albiceleste. Lautaro Martínez, Ángel Di María and substitute Paulo Dybala all hit to ensure a party atmosphere for the Copa América winners, who add the new UEFA Cup of Champions – dubbed the ‘Finalissima’ – to their trophy collection while Europe's reigning champions wonder just what hit them.

Much of the talk before the game revolved around how Argentina, so effective in South America these past two years, would adapt to the challenge of a top European side. In the end – and allowing for the failings of an Italy team that was a shadow of that which lifted the European Championship in 2021 and still seems to be licking its wounds following March's elimination from World Cup qualifying – only minor adjustments were needed to get the machine running as well as it has been against the likes of Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile.

Lionel Scaloni set up in a more compact manner than the team has perhaps been accustomed to recently, looking to work off the spaces left by the opposition rather than force the game throughout. Italy were harried for possession across the 90 minutes and, once the ball was recovered, Argentina quickly looked to make them pay with every trick in the book, from precise long passes out of the back in order to launch the counter to Messi's incomparable dribbling skills, which ensured a torrid evening for everyone in a blue shirt.

Thus what was expected to be a tough clash turned swiftly into a procession once Di María's strike – reminiscent of his now iconic finish to down Brazil in the Maracaná – doubled the lead. Messi provided one of the most thrilling moments of the game by picking Jorginho's pocket near the halfway line and steaming through the Italy defence to bear down on goal, only to be denied by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Manchester City-bound Julián Álvarez, meanwhile, almost left an early mark on his new home with an audacious effort from almost his own half when he spotted Donnarumma off his line, though Messi's Paris Saint-Germain team-mate managed to recover in time to claim the shot.

The road to Qatar has therefore begun in perfect fashion, with a new piece of silverware and Argentina's first-ever victory on English soil. But there will be many bumps in the road to come, not to mention tough decisions for Scaloni when it comes to deciding who will make the cut and who must stay at home in November. But the coach's first team essentially picks itself from memory, while others are primed to step up when starters are missing – Argentina did not miss a beat through the absences of Leandro Paredes and Nicolás Tagliafico on Wednesday, tribute as much to their unshakeable team spirit as to the quality of the replacements waiting in the wings. That is probably the best tribute one can pay at this point: the Albiceleste are a real team, and likely to cause problems for any opponents over the coming six months.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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