By Samindra Kunti – For Argentina it was a question of playing without their wonder boy Lionel Messi – exactly on the day that Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been (over)hyped across the globe. The Metlife Stadium felt awkwardly empty without the presence of Messi. A sea of La Tricolor fans painted the first tier strictly yellow.
Right from the kick off, Montero and Valencia sped down the flanks, causing all sorts of problems for Fiorentina´s Roncaglia and Bordeaux´s Orban. The pattern for the first half had been set, but a wasteful, or rather incompetent, Ecuadorian frontline failed to punish Argentina´s lethargic backline. Caicedo and co dispatched one tame shot after another, seemingly taking pity on Argentina´s number one, Sergio Romero. Ecuador had eleven attempts on goal before the interval, only three were target. Antonio Valencia hit the woodwork with a header from close range.
But for Sabella the outing of his XI was just another confirmation of the paradigm that haunted Argentina during the World Cup qualifiers: his side were and are out of balance – attacking wealth versus defensive poverty. Argentina´s forward line normally reads Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. Tonight Sabella opted for Higuain and PSG´s Lavezzi up front, with Angel Di Maria in support. While the trio did not muster match in the absence of Messi, Higuain came relatively close to scoring when loitering at the far post in the 34th minute.
Sabella did not alter his side for the second term. Argentina looked rejuvenated and a trio of dangerous shots from Angel Di Maria tested Alexander Dominguez. Ecuador were rattled. There were no more twists and turns from Montero or balmy runs from Antonio Valencia as Argentina dominated the second half with the game turning into what Sabella later would call ‘a tale of two halves:’
Pablo Zabaleta replaced Roncaglia and that signalled the start of a festival of substitutions – an unpleasant feature of international friendlies. Sabella and Rueda were both reverting to plan B and C, giving certain players playing time, but a 45 minute spark quickly descended into a tedious encounter. Maxi Rodriguez smashed a volley against the post from a tight angle late on, but like Argentina´s entire evening, it was all a bit under par without Messi.