Argentina begin life after Maradona with win

DUBLIN - Argentina began life after Diego Maradona on a winning note, marking their first game since the former coach's tumultuous spell in charge ended last month with a 1-0 friendly victory over Ireland.

Argentina, who made an earlier-than-expected World Cup exit after an unceremonious 4-0 quarter-final thrashing by Germany, spoilt the hosts first outing at the new Aviva Stadium thanks to a first half goal from Angel Di Maria.

Sticking with eight of the starters from last month's defeat to Germany, the visitors looked too good in the opening periods and controlled much of an otherwise uneventful first half.

They took the lead when Real Madrid winger Di Maria grabbed his second international goal on 20 minutes, lobbing Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given after a deft lay off from club team mate Gonzalo Higuain.

However, Irish defenders were infuriated as they believed Higuain was offside. Although some 10 metres ahead of the last defender when goalkeeper Sergio Romero launched a long punt, he received the ball directly from a goal kick meaning he could not be deemed offside.

Even Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who was forced to watch the match from a hospital bed after undergoing minor surgery earlier on Wednesday, was puzzled by the decision.

"I spoke to Giovanni after the match and he was wondering if the rules had changed!" Trapattoni's assistant Marco Tardelli, who took over for the game, told a news conference.

After Ireland's more inexperienced players like Keith Fahey of Birmingham City and Celtic reserve Cillian Sheridan initially struggled against the likes Lionel Messi, Tardelli said he was pleased with how they improved as the game went on.

SPIRITED SECOND HALF

The Irish, who begin their European championship qualifying campaign away to Armenia on September 3, did indeed put in a spirited second half display but they were unable to find the net against the South Americans for the first ever time.

Captain Robbie Keane, who became the third player this year and the fourth ever to reach 100 caps for Ireland, led the fightback but only came close to adding to his record tally of 43 goals for his country during a late goalmouth scramble.

Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago went much closer for Argentina and could have helped interim coach Sergio Batista to breathe a little easier for the last 15 minutes of his first game in charge were it not for a smart save from Given.

Batista, a World Cup winner as a player in 1986, said the victory was important after the tough loss to Germany.

"It was good to get the massive blow of elimination from the World Cup out of our systems," the former youth coach said.

"We played nice football, the type of football that I like, particularly in the first half. Let's see how we develop but if I was asked to give marks out of 10, I'd certainly give ourselves an eight out of 10 for the first half."

Batista's credentials as a viable successor to Maradona, whom the country's football association say they will not replace before October, will face a far greater test in next month's friendly against world champions Spain.

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