Lionel Messi celebrated his debut as Argentina’s regular captain by setting up the winner from a setpiece to enable his side get past fellow Latin Americans Venezuela 1-0 in the first ever FIFA Official International Friendly in India here Friday. Alejandro Sabella enjoyed a winning start to his reign as Argentina coach as Nicolas Otamendi’s second-half goal secured a friendly victory over Venezuela at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, captaining his country for the first time, supplied the corner from which Porto defender Otamendi headed home the game’s only goal in the 67th minute.
Messi, who featured as centre-forward in the previous regime under Sergio Batista, was given the role of playmaker, with Luis Gonzalez on the right and Angel Di Maria on the left. The first two chances of the match fell to Di Maria – both courtesy of Messi assists – but the Real Madrid winger failed to find the breakthrough either from his shot from the edge of the area or when one on one with Venezuela goalkeeper Rafael Romo. Messi also went close in the 23rd minute when Udinese stopper Romo could not hold on, but the FIFA World Player of the Year was just unable to pounce on the loose ball. Venezuela were defending deeply as half-time approached, restricting Sabella’s men to long-range shots as they struggled to break down their opponents’ defence. The Venezuelans looked more positive after the break, but it was Argentina who continued to look the more dangerous.
Messi sent a free-kick just wide in the 62nd minute and then set up Gonzalo Higuain, who lashed his attempt against the bar. The deadlock was finally broken eight minutes later as Otamendi powered home a header from Messi’s corner. A raft of substitutions did little to help the flow of the game in the final 20 minutes, although Romo had to be alert to keep out Messi on two more occasions. Argentina will remain in Asia for another game on Tuesday – against Nigeria in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Argentina: Sergio Romero, Martin Demichelis, pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Ricardo Alvarez (Javier Pastore , 61?), Lucho Gonzalez (Jose Sosa, 68?), Lionel Messi (c), Gonzalo Higuain (Sergio Aguero, 74?).
Venezuela: Rafael Romo, Fernando Amorebieta, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Angel Flores, Gabriel Cichero, Nicolas Fedor, Tomas Rincon (c), Frank Feltscher (Yohandry Orozco, 68?), Csar Gonzlez, Roberto Rosales, Jose Salomon Rondon.