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Maxi Rodriguez brace helps Los Albiceletes cruise to victory at El Monumental…

Argentina 5-0 Canada - Lineups/Stats

Diego Maradona’s Argentina cruised to a comprehensive victory over Canada this evening, with Angel di Maria, Carlos Tevez and substitute Kun Aguero adding to a Maxi Rodriguez brace to seal a comfortbale 5-0 win at El Monumental.

After a year in which almost every professional footballer with an Argentine passport was given a run-out for Los Albicelestes, last week, Diego Maradona finally settled on his “23 warriors” that he was “ready to die with” in South Africa at the World Cup this summer.

And tonight, as Argentina celebrated its bicentennial, there was a party atmosphere inside River Plate’s El Monumental as Maradona’s men hosted Canada in their final dress rehearsal before the big show this summer.

There were a few notable absentees: Diego Milito, the man whose Champions League final brace Maradona claimed proved he was “right to include him amongst his 23”, and first-choice centre back pairing Walter Samuel and Martin Demichelis were all missing following UEFA’s showpiece final on Saturday night. Leo Messi, meanwhile, dropped to the bench after a gruelling season in Barcelona - which is probably the only positive Canada can take away from tonight’s game.

Colon defender Ariel Garce, whose selection was apparently decided upon after Maradona had a dream where his side lifted the World Cup and Garce’s face was the only one he could remember, was told by the coach at Sunday’s press conference that he had a “good chance of starting.” However, he was left out tonight as Jonas Gutierrez dropped back into full-back to accommodate Maradona’s changes further up the field.

Nicolas Otamendi, their first-choice right-back, shifted infield to his more familiar centre-back role alongside Nicholas Burdisso while Carlos Tevez came in for Messi and looked lively from the start. The Man City man created the first chance of the game on seven minutes after his tricky wing-play lead to an excellent defensive clearance from Paul Stalteri.

Argentina’s roaming front-line left the Canadians chasing shadows all evening and it was from the wide positions that most of the home side’s good play arrived. Javier Pastore (earning his first international cap with Juan Veron dropping to the bench) showed great feet on the left before being hauled down on the edge penalty area, six yards from the by-line. Another surprise inclusion in the starting line-up Maxi Rodriguez, stepped up to fire his viciously swerving free-kick inside the far post to give the hosts a well deserved 15th minute lead.

Pastore grew in confidence by the minute and was a constant danger in his unrestricted midfield role and was responsible for the majority of the early ole’s that reverberated around El Monumental.

The finest moment of the first-half came on the half-hour mark as Argentina’s interchanging midfield exchanged one-twos, flicks and tricks before picking their way though the Candian backline. The visitors were clearly having trouble dealing with the Argentinians movement and if it were not for an excellent tackle from Will Johonson, Carlos Tevez would have grabbed a goal reminiscent of Esteban Cambiasso’s in 2006.

But Maradona and Maxi Rodriguez wouldn’t have to wait long for the second. After half an hour, Canada, for the first time, dared to venture forward and were promptly caught by a rapid counter-attack that ended with an onrushing Tevez sliding the ball to his right and Rodriguez coolly slotting the ball underneath Pat Onstad.

By the time a Real-Madrid-bound Angel di Maria made it three five minutes later, the game was already up. Cutting side from the left-wing, di Maria nonchalantly flicked the outside of his left boot to send the ball curling and dipping out of Onstad’s grasp and into the top corner. The Canadian ‘keeper was beaten hands down by a youngster who was born in the year Onstad began his professional career.

Maxi Rodriguez failed to emerge for the second-half after he was on the wrong end of a meaty challenge from Josh Simpson just before the break, allowing Juan Veron to join in the midfield free-for-all. The veteran, enjoying the space allowed to his colleagues in the first-half, immediately took up the task of conductor, effortlessly stroking the ball around the park.

Carlos Tevez grabbed Argentina’s third just after the hour-mark after some suicidal defending from Andre Hainault, who was robbed after attempting to turn on the edge of his penalty area. Tevez poked the ball to Higuain before collecting his return and slotting it into an empty net.

While Higuain missed a number of chances, his movement bamboozled the Canadian backline all evening and he was a constant threat before being replaced by Saint Martin Palermo with 20 minutes remaining. The veteran came close to grabbing Argentina’s sixth with five minutes left but just couldn’t get over a di Maria cross at the far post.

By that time, another substitute, Kun Aguero, had made an instant impact when he replaced Carlos Tevez. Picking up the ball just seconds after entering the fray, he turned Richard Hastings one way then the other before firing his shot past Onstad from inside the box to round off a resounding victory.

More than the result, what will please Maradona will be the nature of Argentina’s victory tonight. They looked well organised and played with a wickedly joyful fluency up front. While the sceptics will argue that Canada offered nothing to test his side and point to their 4-0 victory over Venezuela in Diego’s first qualifier, Maradona will gleefully point to the scoreboard and proclaim that his side are ready for the dance.

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