Pastore hands Argentina victory over Ecuador in Messi’s absence (VIDEO)

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For the second time in four days Argentina emerged victorious without Lionel Messi as Gerardo Martino’s side continue their preparations for the Copa América. As expected Ecuador provided a sterner test than El Salvador posed on Saturday but goals from Sergio Agüero and man of the match, Javier Pastore ensured it was La Albiceleste leaving snowy New Jersey with the win.

The discomfort in Messi’s right foot meant that the captain was once again left on the bench and in his place Federico Mancuello was granted his first start. He and Ángel Di María flanking lone striker, Agüero with enganche Javier Pastore behind.

The side started well enough and after only ten minutes led when a corner from the right was flicked on at the near post by Pastore and found Agüero unmarked to head in his 22nd goal for Argentina.

However, the early vigour that Argentina started with quickly began to fade and possession was given away all too often. It came as little surprise when Ecuador equalised midway through the half. Walter Ayoví found acres of room down the left and his low cross eluded everyone before falling at the feet of Miller Bolaños. The striker had time to control and shoot inside the box and Nicolás Otamendi’s lunge could only help the ball bobble past Sergio Romero.

After the break Argentina improved and managed to take a better control of the game and Pastore’s influence began to grow. A number of fast counter attacks perhaps should have given Argentina the lead but a short of confidence Ángel Di María rather snatched at the chances.

The second goal once again came from a corner and it was Pastore who earned his reward for probably his best performance in an Argentina shirt. The corner was never cleared and as Lucas Biglia headed the ball back into the box the Ecuador defence raised their hands looking for an offside that was not there and Pastore stroked the ball past Alexander Domínguez.

Over the second half Argentina should have put more breathing space between them and Ecuador but in the end did enough to warrant the 2-1 win. There is still plenty for Gerardo Martino to mull over: the defence still looked a little fragile and once Messi returns there are still question marks over who joins him in the attack but the emergence of Pastore in the midfield three could be a crucial ahead of the Copa América.

Argentina  2 – 1  Ecuador

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