14 October 2014 16:31
A host of fringe Argentina players laid their claim to a spot in Gerardo Martino’s plans after waltzing to a 7-0 win over Hong Kong.
Brazil took down a strong Argentina side 2-0 in Beijing at the weekend, but a string of replacements had a comfortable outing against a side placed 163 places below them in the world rankings on Tuesday.
Lionel Messi was among those rested, but his every appearance on the stadium screen was routinely cheered by the fans in attendance at the Hong Kong Stadium, and they got to see half an hour of their hero in fine form after the break.
Nahuel Guzman made his international debut in goal, while defensive pair Facundo Roncaglia and Santiago Vergini were handed their second caps.
Ever Banega – making his first Argentina outing in 11 months – opened the scoring after ponderous home defending, while Gonzalo Higuain and Nico Gaitan also netted before the interval – the Benfica winger capping a fine performance with his first international goal.
Higuain netted again early in the second half to take him joint fifth on Argentina’s goalscoring chart – above World Cup-winning pair Leopoldo Luque and Daniel Passarella – with Messi getting in on the act for number five before setting up Gaitan’s second and Argentina’s sixth.
Messi capped a devastating cameo with the final goal, as the visitors racked up a simple triumph.
Despite Martino changing his entire XI from the Brazil defeat, Argentina quickly found their feet and set up camp around the Hong Kong area.
Javier Pastore spurned a gilt-edged chance 13 minutes in, but Banega managed to net six minutes later, drilling home after goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai spilled Gaitan’s shot and Lee Chi Ho failed to sufficiently clear.
Yapp displayed sharp reflexes to impressively tip Higuain’s 30-yard scorcher over the crossbar and the Napoli man saw a neat effort chalked off for fouling Lee.
However, Higuain eventually had his moment three minutes before the break as Leonel Vangioni delivered a wicked cross from the left, which the Napoli man steered across Yapp and in with his head.
There was still time for Gaitan to put his name on the scoresheet, receiving a ball from Banega before stepping inside and lashing the ball home.
The game’s three goalscorers worked in perfect tandem to rack up the fourth. Banega’s fine throughball released Gaitan in the clear and he drew Yapp from his line before giving Higuain a tap-in.
And shortly after coming on, Messi burst into the box after a neat one-two with Banega to chip calmly over the onrushing Yapp.
Messi was in no mood to coast through his outing and displayed tenacity to keep the ball in on the byline before bypassing the Hong Kong defence with a pass which left Gaitan the simple task of scoring from two yards.
Hong Kong forward Karikari Godfred wasted a one-on-one chance to grab an improbable home goal, but Messi had no such trouble in capping the win by dribbling past four listless defenders and clipping home his 44th Argentina strike.