International friendly: Argentina claim 2-1 win over Italy
Argentina claimed a 2-1 win over Italy in Rome with new Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain on the score-sheet.
Last Updated: 14/08/13 10:39pm
Higuain, a summer arrival in Naples from Real Madrid, opened the scoring in the 20th minute and then turned provider early in the second half for substitute Ever Banega.
The match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico - the first between these two countries in 12 years - was held in the honour of the recently elected Pope Francis, a Buenos Aires native but the son of Italian parents.
When meeting players from both teams in the Vatican yesterday, Pope Francis admitted he would find it "a bit hard" to know who to cheer for, although that did not stop Argentina stating their case for papal support in no uncertain terms by dominating their hosts over 90 minutes.
For a match boasting such a grand billing it was unfortunate that two of football's biggest names - Italy's Mario Balotelli and Argentina talisman Lionel Messi - were missing due to injury.
It was Argentina who settled quickest in the absence of their star man, with Lucas Biglia carving out an opening inside two minutes as he drilled a shot from the edge of the area that Gianluigi Buffon held.
Italy started slowly and 19 minutes had passed before their first chance arrived, and even then Antonio Candreva's right-footed effort from distance was optimistic and always rising too high.
Argentina took the lead just 60 seconds later, Angel Di Maria picking out former Real Madrid team-mate Higuain with a pass from the midfield which the striker collected before ghosting past two markers and curling a powerful shot into the right corner from just inside the area.
Rodrigo Palacio fired over from six yards as Argentina spurned a glorious chance to make it 2-0 in the final minute of the half.
And the Italians almost made Palacio pay for that miss within seconds at they broke quickly only for Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo - in for the injured Mario Balotelli - to fire over from 20 yards.
Italy boss Cesare Prandelli made three changes at half-time in a bid to turn the tide, but it was Argentina's sole interval change that brought about the game's second goal.
The lively Higuain was the architect, picking out half-time replacement Banega from the left channel and the Valencia midfielder did the rest, tucking the ball away into the bottom-left corner from 18 yards.
Italy's defenders will have been happy to see Higuain removed after an hour to be replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi, and it was not long before things got even better for the hosts.
With 13 minutes left Osvaldo got space down the left and picked out Lorenzo Insigne, who lofted an effort over Mariano Andujar to renew home hopes.
But that was as good as it got for Italy as Argentina finished much the stronger, with Lavezzi firing over late on before Maxi Rodriguez was denied in the final minute by a brilliant tip-over by substitute goalkeeper Federico Marchetti.