There is still a great deal of work to do for Jorge Sampaoli but his Argentina side got useful minutes on the clock as they inaugurated Russia’s redeveloped Luzhniki Stadium with a 1-0 win over next year’s World Cup hosts.
Dominating possession against quite clearly inferior opponents, Sampaoli may not have learned a great deal but did get a promising display from Sergio Agüero at the head of his attack. The Manchester City striker scored the only goal four minutes from time to claim victory and take his international tally to 35, third on the list of all-time leading scorers.
With the likes of Germán Pezzella, Matías Kranevitter, Giovani Lo Celso and Eduardo Salvio in the starting eleven there was an experimental feel to Argentina’s starting eleven but it was only really Agüero to stake a claim for a more permanent starting role.
Without being at their best, Argentina were on top for large parts and Agüero had been at the centre of things, drawing two fine saves from Igor Akinfeev and slipping in Lionel Messi with a fine throughball only for the captain’s clipped finish to be headed off the line.
The winner came in the 86th minute and debutant Cristian Pavón played a vital role. The Boca youngster and Diego Perotti had provided a boost to the attack out wide and when Messi released the pacy Pavón his cutback found Agüero. The initial shot was blocked but the ball bounced back up for the Independiente youth product to nod in the winner.
The win gives Argentina back-to-back wins for the first time since June and while it wasn’t exactly free-flowing, the issue of finding the net was far from resolved and Russia rarely stretched Sampaoli’s side, it served as a useful 90 minutes in their preparation.