Two inspired substitutions from under fire coach Diego Maradona helped Argentina to an entertaining 3-2 victory, condemning Russia to a rare home defeat.
Lisandro Lopez and debutant Jesus Datolo both scored within a minute of coming on to give the out of form South Americans a morale boosting win ahead of their crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers following Sergio Aguero’s earlier equaliser in the first half.
Argentina gave a debut to Huracan midfielder Mario Bolatti whilst Nicolas Otamendi made only his second start in the heart of the defence over the more experienced Daniel Diaz. However, the biggest news from the Argentina team sheet was the exclusion of Lionel Messi as the Barcelona superstar had pulled out of the game through injury.
Messi’s absence gave Sergio Aguero a more prominent role up front with target man Diego Milito. Following an initial scare where Otamendi looked worryingly lacklustre, the two Argentina strikers combined magnificently only to see Akinfeev save well from Aguero at the near post.
However, the familiar defensive frailties that had been exposed in recent months returned as inexperienced defender Otamendi failed to pick up Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Igor Semshov who promptly fired past the grip of Andujer to give the Russians a 1-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Despite Aleksandr Kerzhakov spurning further opportunities to extend the Russian’s lead, Argentina pulled level just before the break as a weak clearance fell to Aguero on the edge of the penalty area allowing the little Atletico Madrid striker to hit a rasping drive past the despairing Akinfeev for the equaliser.
Things then got even better for the visitors as they began the second half just as they had ended the first. Maradona will be taking the credit as Lisandro Lopez latched on to a through ball from the unstoppable Aguero before beating a defender and shooting low into the back of the net merely thirty seconds after coming on to give Argentina a 2-1 lead.
The goal inspired Argentina into a period of rare dominance often unseen in the Maradona reign, giving onlookers a breathtaking exhibition of quick pass and move football. The manager’s golden touch continued in the 58th minute as another driving run from Aguero drew the defender out allowing him to play in substitute Jesus Datolo who calmly finished past the despairing Akinfeev for a 3-1 lead.
A deflected free kick from Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko in the 78th minute took some of the gloss off the eventual 3-2 victory but that will fail to trouble Maradona. On a night where the coach was devoid of some of his best players in Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Martin Demichellis; a large majority of his squad players put one of the vastly improving European nations to the sword with some spellbinding attacking football. If Argentina can replicate this kind of performance on a more consistent basis, their ticket to South Africa in 2010 will be well and truly booked.