Sergio Agüero stepped into the limelight in Lionel Messi’s absence on Wednesday night and helped Argentina to a 2-0 win over the African champions in Cairo, after a tricky opening half gave way to a more impressive performance from Argentina in the second. Without Messi and Juan Román Riquelme, Alfio Basile’s side were testing out a few new ideas, and eventually managed a comfortable enough win – but not after their hosts had done enough to show their own worth in the first half.
Luís González was captaining the side, and had the game’s first chance within a minute of kick off, racing onto the ball in the box and flashing a right-footed shot across the face of goal and wide. In the opening minutes Argentina looked to take control of the game, Gabriel Heinze getting forward from his left-back position to aid the attack, but Agüero and Julio Cruz in the middle were being well marked, and Egypt looked dangerous down the flanks on the counter. Maxi Rodríguez had a chance to open the scoring, running onto a bouncing ball and flicking it over the goalkeeper, but found himself unable to keep his header down when challenged for it by a defender almost on the goal line.
As the half wore on, Egypt began to look more at home against their illustrious visitors, and Javier Mascherano in particular looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps still feeling the mental after-effects of his red card and subsequent outburst at Old Trafford for Liverpool on Sunday. At half-time, González, given playmaking duties, was working gamely, and Rodríguez on the right was putting in his usual impressive shift, but there was something missing elsewhere – Julio Cruz was dropping a little too deep and Agüero was well marked, not allowed any space. 0-0 it was at the interval.
In the second half, Egypt began better, Mohamed Zidan, such an impressive performer in the recent victorious African Cup of Nations campaign, had a good chance but couldn’t take it, and then Argentina seemed to wake up. El Kun Agüero ran onto a long ball 65 minutes in and, looking up, lifted it over the goalkeeper and high into the net. Argentina, at last, had the lead.
With that, Argentina relaxed and took control, and Egypt had little more of a say in the closing 25 minutes, Maxi Rodríguez testing the goalkeeper from 30 yards out and Agüero wasting the chance to double his and his team’s tally after Fernando Gago had put him through behind the defence. With five minutes remaining, Inter defender Nicolás Burdisso rose to head a free kick from the right channel from Maxi. It looped over Essam El Hadari in the Egyptian goal for Burdisso’s first goal for his country, and Argentina had the win.
Alfio Basile seemed pleased enough with the team’s performance, with a few caveats. ‘In the first half we didn’t quite find “the way”, we managed the ball poorly and they [Egypt] started to come at us towards the end… we lifted ourselves later in the match, though, and ended up winning without any problems.’ On his team selection; ‘I tried playing Gago a little further forward than Mascherano and with Maxi [Rodríguez] searching for it out wide. It was all OK, everything’s fine – the main thing is to be able to vary it when we’re playing for points.’ He reserved his scorn mainly for the ball chosen for the match; ‘Please, I think we can all agree that the game should always be played with the same type of ball. The one used today was a balloon, and it seemed slightly deflated at that. It’s difficult to do things properly like that…’
Agüero: Egypt 0 – 1 Argentina (65th min)
Burdisso: Egypt 0 – 2 Argentina (85th min)