Argentina’s 5-2 victory over South Africa on Saturday still left a number of unanswered questions of Fernando Batista’s side and while some remain, La Albiceleste made a statement on Tuesday afternoon with victory over European champions Portugal to book a place in the last 16 ahead of the final group game against South Korea.
Batista made a couple of changes to the side that won so comfortably at the weekend with Aníbal Moreno replacing Santiago Sosa in central midfield and Agustín Urzi and Adolfo Gaich starting in attack.
And that attack completed by Ezequiel Barco and Julián Álvarez caused Portugal problems as a bright opening saw Argentina on top in the opening stages. La Albiceleste hadn’t managed to convert that pressure into chances and it was when Portugal began to assert themselves and force Manuel Roffo into a couple of saves that Argentina took the lead.
Barco eased the ball into the channel for Álvarez and the River Plate youngster stabbed the ball into the middle for Gaich to ease past João Virginia with the help of the post.
After the break it was all Portugal and only a resolute defensive display and Manuel Roffo saving smartly to deny Jota kept Argentina in front.
With the Europeans unable to find an equaliser, Argentina wrapped up the win five minutes from time as Ezequiel Barco whipped in a free-kick that was poked goal wards by captain Nehuén Pérez and eventually awarded after a lengthy delay for a VAR check.
The score line perhaps didn’t reflect how even the two sides were but Argentina displayed the characteristics that could see them as real challengers in Poland. A front three of Barco, Álvarez and Gaich that will be a handful for any side and a gritty defence that lays a solid foundation to build on.
A place in the next round is already confirmed and now as the joint leading scorers, Argentina can enjoy the final group game against South Korea with the pressure off.
Argentina XI: Manuel Roffo; Facundo Mura, Nahuén Pérez, Facundo Medina, Francisco Ortega; Fausto Vera, Aníbal Moreno (Santiago Sosa); Julián Álvarez (Gonzalo Maroni), Ezequiel Barco (Marcelo Weigandt), Agustín Urzi; Adolfo Gaich