DUBLIN - Argentina began life after Diego
Maradona on a winning note, marking their first game since the
former coach's tumultuous spell in charge ended last month with
a 1-0 friendly victory over Ireland.
Argentina, who made an earlier-than-expected World Cup exit
after an unceremonious 4-0 quarter-final thrashing by Germany,
spoilt the hosts first outing at the new Aviva Stadium thanks to
a first half goal from Angel Di Maria.
Sticking with eight of the starters from last month's defeat
to Germany, the visitors looked too good in the opening periods
and controlled much of an otherwise uneventful first half.
They took the lead when Real Madrid winger Di Maria grabbed
his second international goal on 20 minutes, lobbing Ireland
goalkeeper Shay Given after a deft lay off from club team mate
However, Irish defenders were infuriated as they believed
Higuain was offside. Although some 10 metres ahead of the last
defender when goalkeeper Sergio Romero launched a long punt, he
received the ball directly from a goal kick meaning he could not
be deemed offside.
Even Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who was forced to
watch the match from a hospital bed after undergoing minor
surgery earlier on Wednesday, was puzzled by the decision.
"I spoke to Giovanni after the match and he was wondering if
the rules had changed!" Trapattoni's assistant Marco Tardelli,
who took over for the game, told a news conference.
After Ireland's more inexperienced players like Keith Fahey
of Birmingham City and Celtic reserve Cillian Sheridan initially
struggled against the likes Lionel Messi, Tardelli said he was
pleased with how they improved as the game went on.
SPIRITED SECOND HALF
The Irish, who begin their European championship qualifying
campaign away to Armenia on September 3, did indeed put in a
spirited second half display but they were unable to find the
net against the South Americans for the first ever time.
Captain Robbie Keane, who became the third player this year
and the fourth ever to reach 100 caps for Ireland, led the
fightback but only came close to adding to his record tally of
43 goals for his country during a late goalmouth scramble.
Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago went much closer for
Argentina and could have helped interim coach Sergio Batista to
breathe a little easier for the last 15 minutes of his first
game in charge were it not for a smart save from Given.
Batista, a World Cup winner as a player in 1986, said the
victory was important after the tough loss to Germany.
"It was good to get the massive blow of elimination from the
World Cup out of our systems," the former youth coach said.
"We played nice football, the type of football that I like,
particularly in the first half. Let's see how we develop but if
I was asked to give marks out of 10, I'd certainly give
ourselves an eight out of 10 for the first half."
Batista's credentials as a viable successor to Maradona,
whom the country's football association say they will not
replace before October, will face a far greater test in next
month's friendly against world champions Spain.
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