ARGENTINA 2, ITALY 0
Lionel Messi, five times world player of the year, didn’t get to play at Manchester City.
The mercurial Messi failed to feature for Argentina against Italy to the huge disappointment of the 18,000 fans at the Etihad.
Messi was named on the bench but was pictured sat in the stand with City’s injured Argentine striker Sergio Aguero.
And though there were chants of “Messi, Messi” from the fans, there was no way he was going to make even the briefest of cameos.
Argentina, even without Messi and Aguero, were a class above Italy and would have won by a wider margin had it not been for a goalkeeping masterclass from 40-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.
In the end Argentina won through two late goals from substitute Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini.
Italy, who surprisingly failed to qualify for the World Cup, rarely threatened to find the net in a game of two contrasting halves.
The opening was decidedly pedestrian and more akin to a pre-season friendly, but there was a far better tempo to the second period that was more like a Premier League fixture.There was plenty of Mancunian interest in the game.
City’s Nicolas Otamendi and former goalkeeper Willy Caballero were in the Argentina starting line up alongside former United forward Angel Di Maria with Reds’ pair Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo on the bench, but City striker Aguero was ruled out through injury.
Caballero, now with Chelsea, was winning his first cap at the age of 36. At the opposite end of the spectrum was Argentina keeper Gianluigi Buffon, 40, who was making his 176th international appearance after coming out of international retirement in tribute to Davide Astori, his former Italy team-mate who died recently aged 31.
The Italian bench also included United full-back Matteo Darmian.
Argentina’s star-studded bench included Messi, Javier Mascherano and new wonder-kid Lautaro Martinez. But with Messi and Aguero sat together in the stand, it was clear he would not be featuring.
And in the 18,000 crowd at the Etihad was former Reds’ striker Wayne Rooney.
There was one minute’s silence before kick off, a tribute to former Fiorentina captain Astori.
Buffon was kept busy early on saving well from Di Maria and Otamendi.
After a lull, Argentina went close again when a 30-yard drive from Leandro Paredes flew narrowly wide while Nicolas Tagliafico had an angled shot well kept out by Buffon.
Then on the stroke of half time Buffon made a brilliant save to deny Gonzalo Higuain with Daniele Rugani completing a goalline clearance as the ball rolled slowly towards the empty net.
The start to the second half was infinitely better than the opening 45 minutes.
Italy had their first chance of the game in the 48th minute when Ciro Immobile set up Lorenzo Insigne who blazed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Argentina ought then to have taken the lead when West Ham’s Lanzini headed over when well placed.
The busy Buffon was called into action again to keep put a drive from Di Maria.
Caballero, who had had a relatively quiet night, was twice called into action in quick succession to deny Immobile and substitute Antonio Candreva.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 75th minute when substitute Banega found the net after exchanging passes with Giovani Lo Celso on the edge of the box before finally beating the brilliant Buffon with a low shot, the sixth international goal for the Sevilla striker.
Buffon made yet another excellent save to deny Diego Perotti with a save with his legs.
But the veteran keeper was beaten for a second time with five minutes left after a three versus two break when Higuain played in Lanzini who fired high into the net from 18 yards for his first international goal that sealed a merited victory.
Italy’s interim manager Luigi Di Biagio thought it was an undeserved defeat for his young team pointing out his side created four great chances.