After barely reaching the World Cup, Jorge Sampaoli has a huge amount still to do if Argentina are to live up to their billing as one of the favourites in Russia. That process begins against Italy in Manchester on Friday but after being dealt the blow of injury to Sergio Agüero, La Albiceleste will now also be without captain Lionel Messi.
Argentina’s captain trained this week and was expected to start at the Etihad Stadium but after suffering muscle fatigue will reportedly not be risked.
With another friendly against Spain on Tuesday, Messi looks likely to be kept back for that and so either Éver Banega or Giovani Lo Celso will start in midfield.
Ángel Di María keeps his place on the left and Manuel Lanzini, who Sampaoli described as vital in his pre-match press conference, is expected to start on the right. The West Ham United midfielder was supposed to be a key part in creating the space for Messi but will still get an opportunity to impress.
With no Javier Mascherano in the starting line-up, Leandro Paredes gets a big chance alongside Lucas Biglia and as Sampaoli had explained yesterday, full-backs Nicolás Tagliafico and Fabricio Bustos will look to add some width.
Back in Manchester, Willy Caballero is expected to start in goal as Sampaoli aims to give all three of his goalkeepers some playing time this week.
Argentina probable XI: Willy Caballero; Fabricio Bustos, Federico Fazio, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Lucas Biglia, Leandro Paredes; Manuel Lanzini, Éver Banega or Gio Lo Celso, Ángel Di María; Gonzalo Higuaín
Italy, who were perhaps the biggest shock from the qualification process and will not be in Russia, are looking to rebuild after such a bitter disappointment.
Luigi Di Biago is in charge for the time being and aside from auditioning for the role on a full-time basis admit that Italy need to rebuild.
Giorgio Chiellini is the main injury absentee for the Azzurri but his Juventus team-mate Gianluigi Buffon has come out of retirement to take a place in the squad.
Italy probable XI: Buffon; Florenzi, Bonucci, Rugani, Spinazzola; Parolo, Verratti, Cristante; Insigne, Immobile, Candreva
The historic link between Argentina and Italy goes far deeper than just the 14 meetings between the two nations.
It is estimated that around half the population of Argentina have some degree of Italian heritage following mass immigration from Europe between 1857 to 1940 but that has also gone the other way with Argentine players opting to switch allegiance and represent the Azzurri over the years.
Italy’s 1934 World Cup triumph had a number of Argentinian-born players with Raimundo Orsi netting in the final but the list goes on, all the way to the likes of Mauro Camoranesi or Franco Vázquez more recently.
Argentina may have only beaten Italy four times from their 14 meetings but scored perhaps the biggest victory, knocking Italy out of the 1990 World Cup on penalties. La Albiceleste are unbeaten in four and won the two previous friendlies in Rome.
Played 14: Argentina won 4, drawn 4, lost 6
05/12/1954 | Italy 2-0 Argentina | Rome (Friendly)
Goals: Galli, Frignani (Italy)
24/06/1956 | Argentina 1-0 Italy | BsAs (Friendly)
Goal: Conde (Argentina)
15/06/1961 | Italy 4-1 Argentina | Lecce (Friendly)
Goals: Sacchi (Argentina); Mora, Sívori (2), Loiacono (Italy)
22/06/1966 | Italy 3-0 Argentina | Turin (Friendly)
Goals: Meroni, Pascutti (2)
19/06/1974 | Argentina 1-1 Italy | Germany (1974 World Cup)
Goals: Houseman (Argentina); Perfumo (own-goal)
10/06/1978 | Argentina 0-1 Italy | Argentina (1978 World Cup)
Goal: Bettega (Italy)
26/05/1979 | Italy 2-2 Argentina | Rome (Friendly)
Goals: Passarella, Valencia (Argentina); Rossi, Causio (Italy)
29/06/1982 | Italy 2-1 Argentina | Spain (1982 World Cup)
Goals: Passarella (Argentina); Cabrini, Tardelli (Italy)
05/06/1986 | Italy 1-1 Argentina | México (1986 World Cup)
Goals: Maradona (Argentina); Altobelli (Italy)
10/06/1987 | Italy 3-1 Argentina | Switzerland (Friendly)
Goals: Maradona (Argentina); Vialli, Garré (own goal), De Napoli (Italy)
21/12/1989 | Italy 0-0 Argentina | Cagliari (Friendly)
03/07/1990 | Italy 1 (3)-(4) 1 Argentina | Italy (1990 World Cup)
Goals: Caniggia (Argentina); Schillaci (Italy)
28/02/2001 | Italy 1-2 Argentina | Rome (Friendly)
Goals: Crespo, González (Argentina); Fiore (Italy)
14/08/2013 | Italy 1-2 Argentina | Rome (Friendly)
Goals: Banega, Higuaín (Argentina); Insigne (Italy)