Argentina edge Irish on return to Lansdowne
© AFP

Argentina began the post-Maradona era with a hard fought victory over the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday on the hosts return to a refurbished Lansdown Road.

Angel Di Maria's controversial first half strike consigned Giovanni Trapattoni's men to defeat in the first international game in the Aviva Stadium.  The Real Madrid striker's first half goal gave caretaker coach Sergio Batista the perfect start in charge of the Albicelestes in front of 45,200 fans.

Batista was in charge of Argentina for the first time since Diego Maradona's reign ended, but resisted any temptation to wield the axe, keeping faith with eight of the side that lost 4-0 to Germany in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals. Fernando Gago, Ever Banega and Walter Samuel were the three changes, starting in place of Maxi Rodriguez, Carlos Tevez and Nicolas Otamendi.

The hosts were without coach Trapattoni, recovering in hospital after minor abdominal surgery, and a host of regulars too, with Kevin Doyle, Glenn Whelan, Liam Lawrence, Aiden McGeady and Sean St Ledger absent.  Robbie Keane made his 100th appearance in the green shirt, with strike partner Cillian Sheridan, in comparison, making a first start, having played 77 minutes for the Under-21's on Tuesday night.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi received a large cheer before kick-off, but it took him just nine minutes to nearly silence the very fans who had hailed him. Richard Dunne's header dropped kindly to the roaming attacker and he jinked past John O'Shea before lifting his attempted chip too high over Shay Given.

The Irish had their first shot in anger on 13 minutes, when the front pairing combined well, Sheridan's header sending Keane through on goal, only for the Spurs striker to push his shot wide of Sergio Romero's right post.  Although Argentina were in command of possession, Ireland still had their chances and Paul Green found Damien Duff in space outside the box. He flashed a shot across the face of goal, but it was too far ahead of Sheridan for the Celtic man to connect.

Argentina took the lead from the resultant goal kick. Romero's giant goal kick was touched on by Higuain. Di Maria appeared to be offside when he received the ball, but the Real Madrid man played on and lobbed Given with style.  The Irish keeper and his defence ran toward the Danish linesman appealing the decision, but the officials were unmoved.

Argentina introduced Pablo Zabaleta and Diego Milito at the break, but Ireland should have equalised seconds after the restart.  Keane showed some footwork Messi would have been proud of inside the box and sent a tempting ball across the face of the goal but nobody was there to tap home.

The hosts grew as the minutes passed, and first Duff and then Andy Keogh had chances to level. Substitute Keith Treacy impressed on the left wing, but despite late pressure, Argentina held out for victory.