Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli felt his side showed some promising signs as they beat Italy 2-0 without Lionel Messi in a friendly in Manchester.
Five-times world player of the year Messi sat out the pre-World Cup outing at the Etihad Stadium as a precaution because of a muscle problem.
He watched from the stands, alongside injured Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, as Argentina upped the tempo after a pedestrian first half to win with late goals from Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini.
Sampaoli said: “The team showed a lot of stability for much of the game and took advantage of the virtues of the players who played.
“We now have to build on the good work we generated. The group is developing.”
Argentina only secured their place in Russia 2018 in the final round of qualifying fixtures but they will be rated among the favourites.
Sampaoli was particularly pleased with the performance of Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain, who was at the heart of a lot of their good attacking play.
He said: “Higuain led a lot of attacks and played the pass for the second goal very well.”
The downside for Sampaoli was the loss of Angel di Maria with a thigh injury. The Paris St Germain player will now not travel to Madrid for next Tuesday’s friendly against Spain.
Aguero will also not be involved with the group as he stays at City to continue his recovery.
Italy are beginning a rebuilding phase following their failure to qualify for the World Cup and caretaker coach Luigi Di Biagio saw some positive signs.
He said: “It is a harsh result. Throughout the game, particularly in the second half, I was thinking 0-0 would be a bad result and was hoping to win.
“I saw the disappointment in the eyes of the players but we must try again.
“I like the fact that the lads tried to play. We tried to attack but we had a great team opposite us. We missed the final push to goal in the final third.”
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