The biggest challenge of Diego Maradona’s nascent international managerial career took place in Marseilles on Wednesday evening, and Argentina passed their test with flying colours, showing guts and a bit of good football to beat France 2-0.
France vs Argentina was a fast-paced affair, with Franck Ribery the main danger for the hosts early on. The Bayern star was kept out by Juampi Carrizo in Argentina’s goal in the seventh minute, the first shot of the match. Lio Messi was stationed nominally wide on the right but given the freedom of the pitch by Maradona, and it was from the left, after good interplay with Sergio Agüero, that he cut inside and got a shot away which William Gallas turned away for a corner, both sides trading blow for blow early on.
It was still a bit scrappy from Argentina, though, with Carrizo twice called on to keep Nicolas Anelka out before saving again from Ribery, who’d skinned Gabriel Heinze on his way to shooting. In the middle of the pitch, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago were doing a good job of winning the ball off their opponents, but a poor one of giving it to their own team-mates.
Before half-time, though, Argentina had taken the lead after settling in somewhat. A long ball saw Agüero race into the right-hand channel and cut back before crossing and causing chaos in the French box. Jonás Gutiérrez took advantage, and Argentina had the lead. Thus galvanised, Argentina gained some confidence and finished on top of a half they’d been largely second best in.
The second half was a bit uglier, the match becoming a little scrappy as Fernando Gago in particular got stuck in a couple of times, on one occasion with his Real Madrid team-mate Lassana Diarra. With ten minutes remaining Carlos Tevez came on to replace Agüero, and he was joined by a debutant – Estudiantes’ Marco Angeleri, who replaced Maxi Rodríguez wide in midfield. Minutes later, Tevez worked well to offload the ball to Messi who finished off a length-of-the-pitch counter-attack with his typical finesse, taking the ball past a couple of opponents before knocking it past Steve Mandanda in the French goal to make it 2-0. Maradona’s next match in charge is a competitive one, and he’ll be hoping to keep the ball rolling nicely.
France vs Argentina, international friendly (11th Feb 2009):
Jonás Gutiérrez (41st min):
Lionel Messi (83rd min):
Apologies to those Lanús and San Lorenzo fans who were hoping for write-ups of your sides’ Copa Libertadores matches on Wednesday night; my habit of leaving holiday preparations to the last minute means I’ve been sorting out final preparations for my Mexico trip tonight, but you’ll be able to see the goals from those games tomorrow night.