Argentina clicking after warm-up win
There are many ways of arranging friendly fixtures ahead of a World Cup, with most countries wanting to play opponents who'll give them some sort of test before the main event. Argentina's Football Association take a very different view, and prefer to organise friendlies which they see -- I'd like to stress I don't necessarily agree with them, before offending any readers -- as easy pickings for a comfortable, morale-boosting victory.
The first of those friendlies was played on Tuesday night in River Plate's stadium, El Monumental, and on this occasion, it proved to be as one-sided as the AFA had presumably hoped. Trinidad and Tobago were dispatched 3-0 by a very mixed Argentina lineup. With Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero all carrying knocks, there was a makeshift look to the side.
The forwards -- Lionel Messi on the right, Ezequiel Lavezzi through the middle and Rodrigo Palacio on the left -- seemed to have decided they quite liked Trinidadian goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams. They spent almost the entire first half going out of their way to ensure he wasn't over-worked, with some absolutely astonishing misses (Messi, it's worth clarifying, was less guilty than his teammates in this respect).
In stoppage time, though, Ángel Di María teed the ball up for Messi a yard out, only for Yohance Marshall to put the ball out for a corner with a brilliant tackle; unfortunately for him, Palacio headed in to break the deadlock from the subsequent corner, and that was that for the first half.
In the second, Javier Mascherano scored his third goal in 97 appearances for Argentina, turning in a Messi free-kick which had cannoned back off the post (Mascherano's previous two were scored in consecutive games during the 2007 Copa América), and substitute Maxi Rodríguez completed the scoring.
First half profligacy aside, Argentina's performance was fine, with some slick attacks working well. Martín Demichelis got shown up for pace once or twice at the back, which is a worry; Alejandro Sabella will hope the Manchester City man's experience leads to improved performances if he's called upon in Brazil.
The midfield (the only outfield stratum of the formation which was at full strength) looked good though, and crucially, both Fernando Gago and Lucas Biglia -- who replaced the Boca Juniors man during the second half -- were up to speed with Lionel Messi's thinking. Gago's been poor for Boca this season, but for Argentina he really does look a different player.
Argentina's next assignment is a friendly on the normally-pretty-awful pitch of La Plata's Estadio Único on Saturday, against Slovenia. Sabella will be hoping to have at least a couple of the injured players back for that one, not least because Demichelis and Palacio both picked up knocks against T&T -- Demichelis' is no more than a knock (though he won't play against Slovenia, just in case), but Palacio's is more serious and might require him to be be replaced in the squad if he's not recovered before the tournament begins.
The most promising news? Di María looked his usual dynamic self, and Messi -- as many had suspected -- looks a far happier human being for Argentina than he has done during much of an up-and-down season at Barcelona, and in spite of his lack of a goal was superb on Wednesday night.
The key parts of the machine are ticking over nicely -- next we'll see how soon the remaining components can be fitted in.