It is a little too soon to be declaring a new dawn in Argentine football and it is fair to say that there will be greater tests than Guatemala but Lionel Scaloni’s youthful, new look Albiceleste swept aside their vastly inferior opponents in impressive fashion on Friday evening to breathe a sense of optimism back into the national team.
Without Lionel Messi and the familiar faces of recent years, Argentina were refreshed with several of the generation tasked with taking the country towards the World Cup in 2022 and there was a hunger, dynamism and pace to Lionel Scaloni’s side that was evidently lacking in Russia.
Guatemala, ranked 146th in the FIFA rankings, were unable to provide a stern examination of La Albiceleste but during the opening 45 minutes Argentina pressed with urgency, moved the ball forward from midfield quickly and utilised the pace of Cristian Pavón and Gonzalo Martínez in wide areas to great effect.
Debutant number nine Giovanni Simeone and the fit again Ramiro Funes Mori both should have scored with headers early on and after wasting several good opportunities to open the scoring, Argentina required a penalty for the breakthrough.
Giovani Lo Celso’s shot from the edge of the box hit the arm of Elías Vásquez and referee Hector Rodriguez pointed to the spot. Gonzalo Martínez, guilty of missing from 12 yards for River Plate a couple of weeks ago, stuck the ball into the top corner to secure a debut goal that his performance warranted.
Argentina continued to come forward with intent and less than ten minutes later the lead was doubled. Martínez’s corner from the right was headed clear but only as far as Giovani Lo Celso, who took a touch before drilling a venomous half-volley back through the crowded penalty box into the net.
Further last ditch defending denied Pavón and Exequiel Palacios before Giovanni Simeone made it three and yet another first international goal. The 23-year-old son of Argentina legend Diego, surged into the penalty area after Palacios had won back possession high up the pitch and with goalkeeper Paulo Motta looking to close the angle, Simeone powerfully finished inside the near post.
Argentina’s three-goal advantage could have been double that and in those 45 minutes there was enough to suggest that Scaloni’s side, with the additions of the obvious quality left out in Los Angeles, could yet be a force to be reckoned with.
The second half was little more than a parade with Scaloni making six changes and clearly effecting the momentum Argentina had during the first half.
Santiago Ascacibar was able to demonstrate his intensity and ball winning ability as the game got increasingly scrappy but the likes of Matías Vargas, Franco Vázquez and Franco Cervi all struggled to make an impact with Albiceleste’s attacking fluidity now lost.
Tuesday’s meeting against Colombia should answer far more questions of this group and of Lionel Scaloni but after a testing year or so for Argentina, the victory and performance from many of the new generation provided reason to cheer.