Kolkata: Lionel Messi marked his first game as Argentina captain with a 1-0 win over Venezuela in a friendly encounter played before thousands of delirious fans in Kolkata on Friday.
The 24-year-old Barcelona striker enthralled the crowd at the 120,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium with his dribbles and his magical left foot and the crowd came to life every time he touched the ball.
It was from a Messi corner that full-back Nicolas Otamendi headed in the game’s only goal on the 67th minute.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella rushed out from the dug-out to hug his team and savour the win in his first match in charge of the two-time World Cup winners.
Messi came close to scoring twice in an entertaining first-half, while Angel Di Maria failed to convert a Messi assist in the ninth minute despite having only Venezuela goalkeeper Rafael Romo to beat.
Venezuela provided more of a threat after the break, with Sergio Romero forced into action to deny Cesar Gonzalez.
That helped ease the anxiety of Sabella, who was looking to get off to a good start after replacing Sergio Batista as coach in the wake of Argentina’s disappointing performance at the Copa America on home soil in July.
The 14-time Copa winners were knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals by Uruguay, triggering a wave of criticism from home fans desperate to see their team break an 18-year title drought.
Friday’s game marked a new start for Argentina as they seek to rebuild ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and if they ever needed any extra motivation for winning this game, it came from the fans in Kolkata who waved Argentina flags and brought the house down with their constant cheering of Messi’s men.
Less fancied Venezuela were fresh from reaching the semi-finals of the Copa America for the first time but they failed to capitalise on the chances that came their way.
Argentina, hoping to build up a loyal following across southern Asia, now head to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for another friendly with Nigeria on 6 September.