The Real Madrid midfielder put the reigning European champions into a 16th minute lead, the midfielder stabbing home a rebound after Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero could only parry away a shot from David Silva. Spain underlined their status as one of the favourites to take next year's FIFA World Cup™ with an array of sparkling attacking moves which had Diego Maradona's Argentina on the back foot for much of the first half.
On 30 minutes, only Fabricio Coloccini's goalmouth clearance kept Argentina from slipping further behind after David Villa got in a shot after Romero struggled to contain Andres Inesta's charge. Seconds later, Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez set up Villa with a sweet through ball with Villa's shot trickling wide.
Argentina had their own chances to level, notably on 39 minutes when, with only Iker Casillas to beat, Benfica winger Angel Di Maria clipped his shot over the crossbar. Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque introduced Raul Albiol for Barcelona's Carles Puyol at the start of the second half as Argentina came out with all guns blazing.
In the 53rd minute, Lionel Messi lobbed over the Spanish defence to find Gonzalo Higuain but the Real Madrid forward was adjudged to be offside by Irish referee Allan Kelly. Argentina, who grabbed the fourth and final automatic qualifying place in South American qualifiyng, were hitting top gear and deservedly levelled on the hour mark. The equaliser came after Atletico Madrid winger Maxi Rodriquez, playing at his home ground, was felled in the box by Albiol, with Messi sending Casillas the wrong way from the spot.
Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas came on to replace Xavi shortly after as Del Bosque looked to regain the upper hand. After a flurry of late substitutions Spain secured the bragging rights against the South American giants when Xabi converted an 85th minute penalty. Kelly awarded the spotkick, which was smashed into the top right-hand corner, after a handball by an Argentine defender.