Banega, Lanzinitake charge as Messi-less Argentina beats Italy in pre-World Cup friendly

MANCHESTER, England — Without a slightly injured Lionel Messi, Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini provided late goals for Argentina in a 2-0 win over Italy in a pre-World Cup friendly on Friday.

Messi was left on the bench due to a minor muscular problem, with Paris Saint-Germain's Giovani Lo Celso getting the start instead at the center of Argentina's attack.

"(Messi) will probably play against Spain," Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said, looking ahead to Tuesday's match in Madrid. "I didn't want to risk him tonight."

In the 75th, Banega scored from the edge of the area in between three defenders after Italy's Jorginho gave up possession near midfield.

Ten minutes later, Lanzini blasted a shot over two defenders into the top corner, past an outstretched Gianluigi Buffon.

Until he was taken off, Angel Di Maria was Argentina's most influential player. The PSG midfielder provided an inspired through ball for Gonzalo Higuain before the break that resulted in a difficult save from Buffon.

Di Maria injured a muscle in his right thigh and won't play against Spain.

Italy didn't threaten until early in the second half, when Ciro Immobile took advantage of a defensive error to roll across for Lorenzo Insigne, who blasted over the bar with only goalkeeper Willy Caballero to beat.

Insigne again came close then Caballero stopped an effort from Immobile before Argentina took control.

It was Italy's first match since failing to qualify for the World Cup and the debut of interim coach Luigi Di Biagio.

While 20-year-olds Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone made their national team debuts, much of Di Biagio's lineup consisted of veterans held over from the qualifying campaign.

"We could have done more, but let's not forget we were facing the World Cup runner-up and this was a valuable match to gain experience," Di Biagio said. "We made too many errors, especially in the first half, but we are trying and there is work to be done."

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During the singing of the national anthems, each member of Italy's squad wore the No. 13 shirt of defender Davide Astori, who was found dead in his hotel room earlier this month after a suspected cardiac arrest before Fiorentina, his club, was to play Udinese.

Italy also wore black armbands and a moment of silence was observed in Astori's memory before kickoff.

The minute of silence was also observed for Rene Houseman, Argentina's 1978 World Cup winner, who died Thursday at 64 after battling tongue cancer.

Italy next visits England at Wembley Stadium in London on Tuesday.

 

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