Stadio Olimpico, Roma by Seth Sawyers / Flickr
Italy 1-2 Argentina
14 August 2013
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Scorers: Higuain, Banega (Argentina), Insigne (Italy)
Argentina defeated Italy to retain the UFWC title in an entertaining match in Rome. Unfortunately, two of football’s biggest stars weren’t involved. Mario Balotelli and Lionel Messi both missed out through injury. Instead it was Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega who grabbed the headlines as Argentina dominated the first half, then held off a strong Italy fightback.
The match – the first between the sides for 12 years – was arranged in honour of Pope Francis, the Argentine pontiff. Both teams had an audience with the Pope yesterday, although he didn’t attend the game. Before kick-off, captains Gianluigi Buffon and Javier Mascherano potted an olive tree that was to be presented to the Pope and planted in the Vatican gardens.
This was Buffon’s 134th appearance for his country. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli picked Daniele De Rossi in central defence, and Sunderland’s new signing Emanuele Giaccherini in midfield. Pablo Osvaldo, born in Argentina, replaced Balotelli up front.
For Argentina, Alejandro Sabello – who has had to deal with the absence of Messi in several recent games – brought in Roma winger Erik Lamela, and paired new Napoli signing Gonzalo Higuain with Rodrigo Palacio up front.
The game was pretty open over the first 20 minutes, with Argentina having the better of the play. And the reigning champions took the lead on the 20th minute, when Higuain capitalised on some sloppy Italian play, cut inside the penalty area, and rifled a right-foot shot past Buffon.
Argentina enjoyed much of the subsequent possession, and it wasn’t until the last five minutes of the first half that Italy, buoyed by an awakened crowd, finally put pressure on the visitors’ goal, Claudio Marchisio going closest to grabbing an equaliser. Then, just before half-time, Palacio very nearly extended Argentina’s lead, only to slice Angel De Maria’s pass over the crossbar.
Both sides made substitutions at half-time, and just three minutes into the second half one of the subs, Valencia midfielder Ever Banega, latched on to a Higuain pass and blasted home from the edge of the area to give Argentina a two-goal lead.
Italy’s substitute goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, on for Buffon, was forced to make a couple of saves before Italy settled down and began to create a few chances. Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini had two good chances, and then Alberto Aquilani put the ball in the net, only to be flagged offside. Italy finally got some reward in the 77th minute, when Lorenzo Insigne fired in a brilliant curling shot to make the score 1-2. Italy created more chances in the latter stages, but there were no more goals, as Argentina held on for the win.
The result extends Argentina’s reign as Unofficial Football World Champions to seven matches. The next title match is a World Cup qualifier, with Argentina heading to Asunción to play Paraguay. A win would seal Argentina’s qualification. That’s on 10 September, so there is less than a month to wait. Paraguay – who drew 3-3 with Germany in a friendly match tonight – have a decent UFWC record, having won seven previous UFWC title matches. However, none of those wins occurred within the last 30-odd years – Paraguay haven’t held the title since 1979.
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