‘Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi‘ got top billing at a packed Old Trafford but it was a lesser light who scored as Portugal scraped a 1-0 friendly win over Argentina on Tuesday.
Raphael Guerreiro headed the winner in added time after a second half riddled with substitutions and missing the excitement factor provided by the game’s two biggest players who did not reappear after halftime.
With Messi and Ronaldo on the field, Argentina showed what coach Gerardo Martino is looking for from his team, a quick-passing possession game with fast thrusts forward.
They dominated the opening half-hour in which they could have scored at least twice, the first chance a shot from Angel Di Maria, playing at the home of his club Manchester United, that skimmed the outside of the post after he was set up by Messi.
Argentina’s closest effort was in the 11th minute when Messi beat the offside trap to reach a through ball on the right and came in at a tight angle, his low shot from the edge of the six-yard box beating Beto but glancing off the post and back into play.
As the half-hour approached, Messi crossed, Javier Pastore headed and Beto dived to save before Ronaldo raised the decibels in the stadium when he backheeled a neat pass to Bosingwa then raced into the box to take the right back’s cross but his shot after two dummies went over the bar.
It was the signal for Portugal to come out of their shell for the last 15 minutes of the half and put the Argentine defence under pressure but Martino‘s side managed to play their way out of trouble.
After a lukewarm start to the second half, Di Maria had a shot from outside the box saved by Beto before Carlos Tevez came on for Gonzalo Higuain to boos from fans of his former team Manchester United but he did not make an impact.
The game failed to pick up its first half rhythm and quality, despite an end-to-end flow, thanks to the high number of substitutions as every player in the two squads appeared to be getting a chance to play.
Portugal looked like they wanted it more towards the end and a lucky bounce set up Ricardo Quaresma to cross from the right and give substitute Raphael Guerreiro a free header for the only billing at the goal.