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Spain v Argentina

Argentina need a Messi miracle as inspired Isco shows Spain's true World Cup credentials

5:50 AM SGT 28/3/18
Isco Spain
The Real Madrid man led La Roja to a 6-1 win and will be key to their hopes in Russia, while the Albiceleste may struggle even with the Barca forward

Even without Lionel Messi, this match was supposed to be a true test of the World Cup credentials of both Argentina and Spain. And if it was, there is only one of the two teams likely to lift the famous trophy in July.

Spain, unbeaten since the summer of 2016, impressed in a 1-1 draw away to Germany on Friday, while Argentina had beaten Italy in Manchester despite an injury to their talisman.

Messi had looked set to return in this match after he was passed fit by coach Jorge Sampaoli in Monday's pre-match press conference, but the Barca forward felt discomfort later that evening and decided earlier on Tuesday that it would not be wise to play.

That will have been a blow to Sampaoli, who had hoped to have his finest footballer available for these two prestige friendlies, but now has only a game away to Israel in June in which to try out his forward in a formation he hopes will make him as comfortable as he is at Barcelona.

On Tuesday night's evidence, however, that will be the least of his worries. Because while Germany against Spain looked like a match between two genuine World Cup contenders, this fixture appeared anything but that.

And yet Argentina were not bad in the first half. Gonzalo Higuain, back after a lengthy exile, missed from close range in the game's first clear chance, hardly helping his reputation as a player who fluffs his lines when it matters most.

In truth, this friendly fixture did not matter that much, although it definitely did to Spain. Isco, something of a fading force for Real Madrid this season after his heroics last term, was at his breathtaking best, following up an impressive display against Germany by hitting a hat-trick here.

In doing so, he became the first Real Madrid player to score an international hat-trick for Spain since April 2003, when Fernando Morientes netted three versus Ecuador. And this against Argentina.

The 25-year-old also ended the night with an assist and left the pitch to a standing ovation. Not bad considering the match was played at the home of his club's city rivals, Atletico.

Earlier, Atletico's own Diego Costa had given Spain the lead after Higuain's miss and Isco had scored the second after he was set up by the magnificent Marco Asensio.

Some of Spain's one-touch play and passing was wonderful. However, when Nicolas Otamendi headed home from a corner and Argentina went in only 2-1 down, it looked like the second half would be competitive.

It was far from it. Substitute Iago Aspas was instrumental in goals for Thiago and Isco, while he himself also scored to do his hopes of making the plane to Russia no harm at all.

That will have been a feast for the Spain supporters and also Julen Lopetegui, while Sampaoli will wonder what went wrong as his players were caught woefully out of position in some dreadful defending after the break, the midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia also looking slow and static up against their sprightly rivals.

But Spain in full flow after not easy to stop and on this form, led by the inspirational Isco, La Roja are real World Cup contenders. Argentina, though, will need more than a Messi miracle to stand a shot at glory in Russia this summer.