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2018 International Friendly, International Friendly
  • Éver Banega (75')
  • Manuel Lanzini (85')

Lionel Messi watches from stands as Argentina edge Italy

Lionel Messi watched from the stands as Argentina began their World Cup build-up with a lacklustre 2-0 win over Italy at the Etihad Stadium.

Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini both struck in the latter stages to put some gloss on an otherwise underwhelming performance.

Messi, the chief attraction for the majority in attendance at Manchester City's half-full arena, did not feature and sat up high alongside another missing attraction in the injured Sergio Aguero.

The game did liven up in the second half but neither side over-exerted themselves.

Italy, looking to rebuild after their failure to qualify for Russia 2018, threatened only in flashes and their best player was arguably veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Those present included Wayne Rooney but the atmosphere was deflated before kick-off when it was announced Messi was not in the starting lineup.

The five-time world player of the year was named among 13 Argentina substitutes but, unbeknown to many in the stadium, there was no chance of him featuring.

City fans instead had to make do with the presence of Nicolas Otamendi in the Argentina defence, while behind him former City goalkeeper Willy Caballero made his international debut.

Otamendi had one of the first serious chances of the game, heading straight at Buffon, who was winning his 176th cap after reversing a decision to retire from international football. Angel di Maria also shot at Buffon in a lively start but that pace soon dropped.

The rest of the first half was played at a crawl with Argentina opportunities just before the interval for Leandro Paredes, Nicolas Tagliafico and Gonzalo Higuain all the crowd had to cheer. The latter two were saved by Buffon, the 40-year-old backing up his claims he is still the best man for the job despite calls for him to stand aside.

Lorenzo Insigne sliced wide when he should have scored early in the second half and Lanzini headed over for Argentina.

But it was not long before the crowd began to entertain themselves with Mexican waves. That briefly lifted the atmosphere but the chants for Messi to come on were wasted.

Caballero boosted his World Cup chances with good saves from Antonio Candreva and Insigne before Banega struck with a sweet left-foot shot from the edge of the area after 75 minutes.

Lanzini beat Buffon with a fine curling effort to wrap up victory 10 minutes later.

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