Lionel Messi & Co. continue their preparations for the World Cup against the Azzurri in Manchester.

By 90Min
March 22, 2018

Argentina face Italy at the Etihad Stadium for the first round of International friendlies. 

Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup this summer, and so their national team rebuild will start in Manchester on Friday night. 

Meanwhile Argentina, the 2014 World Cup runners up, will be one of the favorites to win the competition in Russia. This summer could be the final throw of the dice for Lionel Messi, who is yet to win a major competition with his country. Argentina last won the competition in 1986, but will be hoping to win their third title this summer. 


Classic Encounter

Despite being considered two of the heavyweights of international football, Italy and Argentina have not met in a World Cup since 1990. The hosts faced Argentina in that year's semi finals, where only penalties could separate the two sides. 

Salvatore Schillaci opened the scoring at the Stadio San Paulo to put the Italians ahead in the first half. Schillaci would go on to win the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball that year. Claudio Caniggia equalized for Argentina midway through the second half, which was the first goal Italy had conceded in the whole tournament. 

The game went into extra time where Ricardo Guisti was sent off for Argentina for a second yellow card. Argentina would go through on penalties, winning the shoot-out 4-3. 

Italy beat England 2-1 in the third place playoff, while Argentina would lose the final to West Germany.    


Key Battle

Leonardo Bonucci vs Lionel Messi

Who will dare to try and stop Lionel Messi from winning the ultimate prize this summer? An international competition is the only thing that has eluded Messi during his illustrious career, and it's the only question mark against his stake as being the greatest player of all time. 

The qualification campaign showed us that Messi is capable of heroics for his country has his goals saved Argentina from a similar embarrassment the Italians are currently suffering.  

Argentina's World Cup victory bid starts here. Victories against Italy and Spain in their friendlies will send a message to the competition that the Albiceleste mean business after coming so close in Brazil four years ago.

Leonardo Bonucci will likely lead the back line for the Italians on Friday. As the winds of change blow through the Italian national team, the country will look to the likes of Bonucci to lead Italy's next generation of international stars. 


Team News

There were two surprising snubs in the Argentina squad as Inter forward Mauro Icardi and Juventus' Paulo Dybala were left out for this round of friendlies. 

Manager Jorge Sampaoli has also decided to include five players from Argentina's domestic league. Lautaro Martinez and Christian Pavon are included, as are Fabricio Bustos, Pablo Perez and Maximiliano Meza.

Under-21 head coach Luigi Di Biagio has been placed in charge of Italy's senior squad on a temporary basis. Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out through injury and replaced by Angelo Ogbonna. 

Gianluigi Buffon has decided to reverse his decision to retire from international duty as he wants to help 'unify' the squad. Di Biagio has confirmed that Buffon will play at least one of their upcoming friendlies. There is also no place for Mario Balotelli in the Azzurri squad. 

Potential Italy Starting Lineup: Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Rugani, Darmian; Candreva, Verratti, Jorginho, Insigne; Cutrone, Immobile

Potential Argentina Starting Lineup: Romero; Otamendi, Mascherano, Mercado; Di Maria, Banega, Biglia, Lanzini, Salvio; Messi, Martinez


Prediction

The Italian Football Federation is still recovering from the fallout of Italy's disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign. They are yet to appoint a permanent manager and are still in the rebuilding stages of the national team. The call up of veteran Gianluigi Buffon speaks volumes about the team's need for unity and stability. 

Argentina did not have the strongest qualifying campaign either. The Albiceleste scraped qualification on the final day thanks to a Lionel Messi hat trick against Ecuador. Despite this, Argentina was be confident of their chances this summer and will hope to build their confidence in these friendlies. 

Argentina have won their last three meetings with Italy, but by a close margin. They could make it four wins in a row against the Azzurri on Friday. 

Prediction: Italy 1-2 Argentina

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