Ricky Alvarez and Lionel Messi each found the back of the net as Argentina completed their set of pre-World Cup friendlies with a comfortable 2-0 win over Slovenia on Saturday.
With the victory the Albicelestes stretched their unbeaten run to five matches—three wins and two draws in which they haven’t allowed a single goal.
That said, the afternoon began with bad news for manager Alejandro Sabella.
After only eight minutes, Lucas Biglia suffered a knee injury that eventually forced his withdrawal, although Hugo Campagnaro’s introduction in place of the Lazio midfielder seemed to free up both Augusto Fernandez and Javier Mascherano, who was especially influential in La Plata.
By then the hosts had taken the early lead through Alvarez—the Inter Milan attacker having run right at the Slovenian defense as Ezequiel Lavezzi provided some distraction before finishing expertly inside the near corner with his left foot.
A surprise starter in an experimental Argentina side, Alvarez provided noticeable movement both on and off the ball during his 57 minutes on the pitch, and midway through the opening period he and Fernandez combined to set up Maxi Rodriguez, who wasted the opportunity with a wayward cross.
Then, with Mascherano delivering long, accurate through balls into the final third, Marcos Rojo forced a save out of goalkeeper Vid Belec from a tight angle before Maxi struck the upright with a thunderous drive.
Slovenia, all the while, were looking to play a quick-passing game along the ground, but a nice move involving Miso Brecko and Josip Ilicic came to an end on the right-hand side when Alvarez, backtracking, kicked the ball out for a throw.
Sabella didn’t make any changes at the break—his Slovenian counterpart Srecko Katanec made three—but in the 57th minute he introduced Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Messi, and 11 minutes later the trio was involved in the lovely bit of buildup play that produced the second goal of the contest.
Di Maria, having charged upfield with the ball, laid it off to Messi, who shook off Jasmin Kurtic as he slalomed in and out of the Slovenian defense. Then Di Maria, back in possession, looped an accurate ball into the goalmouth for Aguero, who headed into the path of Messi. The Barcelona maestro made no mistake from in close.
Six minutes before the end of normal time Messi looked to return the favour for Di Maria, although the Real Madrid midfielder’s shot sailed just wide of the far corner.
With victory secure, Sabella also took the opportunity to hand a senior debut to Emanuel Mammana, who has yet to feature in the first team at club side River Plate.
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In a post-match media scrum Lionel Messi reflected on how this Argentina squad has been coming together ahead of the World cup, as per USA Today.
We are in good shape. We are a strong group, which is what we've been hoping to become from the start when (coach) Alejandro (Sabella) came in. Little by little, as we played well, we gained confidence.