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13 of 021

Stylish Argentina quick to impress Maradona

Glenn Gibbons
IF THE avoidance of embarrassment was a more realistic objective than the prevention of defeat, George Burley and his players could certainly be said to have succeeded in what proved to be something of an enigmatic friendly against the eagerly-awaited Argentina.
The applause that greeted the victory which gave Diego Maradona a successful start to his international managerial career was certainly directed at both sides, the Scots having retrieved undeniable respectability after losing the only goal to Maxi Rodriguez so early in the match. Indeed, that opening onslaught from the visitors lent even more credibility to the subsequent performance of the Scots.

Click here for a minute-by-minute account of the match

The datum that Argentina had enjoyed 73 per cent of possession to the Scots' 27 per cent in the first ten minutes of the match was a statistic that told no lie. Instead, the figure was an entirely true illustration of the visitors' superiority, which they themselves substantiated with the goal that gave them their early lead.

Burley's players had already experienced the kind of alarm the visitors were capable of spreading before Maxi scored, but no amount of forewarning could have forearmed them for the slickness and deadliness of the strike.

That first scare had come from the Argentina captain, Javier Mascherano, when he received a flick from Maxi some 22 yards from goal and, with a ferocious right-foot drive, brought a good save from Allan McGregor. It was a moment which, coupled with what followed a few minutes later, might have caused the Rangers goalkeeper to wonder if Craig Gordon's unavailability could any longer be regarded as a stroke of good fortune.

It was Carlos Tevez who started the quicksilver move which brought the goal, the Manchester United forward carrying the ball in from the right before slipping it to Jonas Gutierrez. The Newcastle midfielder played the through pass to Maxi so quickly and accurately that the Atletico Madrid man had no need to worry about a challenge, the home defenders having been simply by-passed. He finished with a low shot past McGregor from just seven yards.

It is an extremely rare match that does not yield one or two opportunities to even the most harassed of teams, but, sitting anxiously in the dug-out, Burley could not have imagined that the dark blue shirts would demonstrate the old truism so soon after falling behind.

The first of the Scots' threats began with Barry Ferguson's pass to Kirk Broadfoot on the left, the full-back relaying the ball to Kris Commons. The Derby County midfielder's low centre found James McFadden and, with a quick turn, he was suddenly in space and pulling back his often explosive left foot. He made the drive, but Martin Demichelis showed exceptional quickness to deflect the ball over the bar with his left foot.

With the Argentine goalkeeper, Juan Pablo Carrizo, having already exhibited uncertainty with crosses, it was almost no surprise that Paul Hartley's corner kick from the left should cause disorder that almost brought the equaliser. Broadfoot glanced the ball deeper into the goalmouth and Stephen McManus' subsequent header might have counted had the ball not cannoned off the back of Gabriel Heinze and over the crossbar. And, before the first half was out, Demichelis would make a mistake from which McFadden would have profited had he been more accurate and more powerful in the finish.

Chris Iwelumo's flicked header was in the control of the Bayern Munich full-back, but, in trying to dribble his way out, he simply turned the ball into the harrying McFadden.

The Birmingham City striker turned away from Demichelis to line up the shot, but, with only Carrizo to beat, he struck the ball weakly straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. It provided an ending to the first half that nobody could have predicted after those opening ten minutes.

Burley's personnel problems – seven of his original squad rendered unavailable by injury before the match – clearly extended to both his recognised left-backs, with Gary Naysmith and Jamie McAllister on the bench, neither having played for his club for a month.

That was one aspect of the casualty list that seemed not to concern the Scotland manager, as he appeared more intent on drafting forward players in the search for an equaliser. Lee Miller replaced Iwelumo at the start of the second half and he was soon followed by the debutant, Scott Robertson, and Shaun Maloney, for the tiring Ferguson and Hartley.

The home players, as usual, could not be accused of a lack of energy and commitment, but their best chance of achieving their objective seemed for most of the time to reside in the unsafe hands of Carrizo. The Lazio goalkeeper gave another example of his unreliability from a corner kick that, with a kinder bounce of the ball, would have brought the Scots level.

The set piece had been won by Miller, who had received a through pass from Caldwell and hit the shot quickly, but had it deflected wide by Demichelis. From Maloney's delivery on the left, Carrizo once again showed a dreadful sense of timing, coming nowhere near the cross as the ball was met by Miller and skewed wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post. Having appeared likely to be overwhelmed in the opening stages, Burley's side could legitimately claim a fair measure of credit for their subsequent resistance.

The outing will surely have little relevance to the World Cup qualifiers against Holland and Iceland in the spring, except to confirm in the manager's mind what he already knew – that, if his players' skill matched their spirit, the trip to South Africa could be booked and paid for this morning.

Taken from the Scotsman

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