Without Lionel Messi, Argentina are clearly below full-strength and there are clearly more important matters than results when organising friendlies in a World Cup year but the nature of Tuesday’s defeat to Nigeria will provide plenty of doubts in Jorge Sampaoli’s mind.
A first defeat for Sampaoli, a first friendly loss since 2014 and the first time Argentina have let slip a two-goal lead since 1959 but what will be of greater concern will be the defensive fragility that was exposed by Nigeria.
A well struck Éver Banega free kick and a cleverly worked Sergio Agüero goal had put La Albiceleste in the driving seat after 35 minutes. Paulo Dybala, replacing Lionel Messi in behind the Manchester City striker, released the rapid Cristian Pavón and just as he did on Saturday the 21-year-old laid on the goal.
The decisive moment came on the stroke of half time when Kelechi Iheanacho bent in a free kick that seemed to catch Agustín Marchesín either by surprise or out of position.
Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi stroked in a equaliser shortly after the restart and a minute later, Nigeria led when debutant Brian Idowu slotted past Marchesín.
Argentina, had lost Agüero at half time after the goalscorer had been taken to hospital after feeling dizzy, and while Sampaoli lost his main threat, it was the defence that was most worrying.
Pressing high up the field there were huge spaces around the sluggish back three for Nigeria to capitalise on and Iwobi wrapped up the win for the Super Eagles, nutmegging Mascherano before finding the net.
The defeat to Nigeria makes no difference but another match in which Argentina look hugely vulnerable without Lionel Messi shows little improvement and when the world’s best player isn’t on the pitch always puts the defence under greater pressure.
Opposition sides, without the worry of stopping Messi, are able to stretch Argentina far more. The lack of pace defensively and Sampaoli’s preference to play with three at the back has so far not yielded results and will be something that must be resolved before the World Cup.