Goals from Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola were enough to secure the points for Argentina in their opening Group C encounter with the Ivory Coast.
Although Didier Drogba pulled a goal back for the African side, Jose Pekerman’s team held on for a valuable three points in what has been labelled the Group of Death.
The game had a refreshing ebb and flow to it in the early stages with both teams committing numbers to attack.
Ivory Coast, making their first appearance at the World Cup finals were clearly not intimidated by the prospect of facing two-time winners Argentina. Indeed, the first chance of the game fell to Drogba who headed over from an Akale cross.
There was drama on 14 minutes when Ayala met a corner with a firm header which keeper Tizie fumbled and although the ball appeared to cross the line, the referee waved play on.
After that early reprieve Ivory Coast appeared to settle and Zakora earned them a corner with a surging run into the penalty area. At this stage, the African side looked the better team, but as the half progressed, Argentina, and in particular Riquelme, began to find their rhythm.
On 24 minutes the deadlock was broken when Ivory Coast were unable to clear a Riquelme free-kick and the loose ball fell to Crespo who converted from close range.
Despite that setback the Ivory Coast started to take the game to Argentina and Drogba was denied an equaliser by a marvellous last ditch challenge from Ayala. Kalou squandered another good chance from the edge of the area, screwing his shot wide when unmarked. Moments later Abdul Kader had a great chance to level the scores but his close range header was blocked by Abbondanzieri in the Argentinian goal.
Despite their territorial advantage, Ivory Coast were to pay a price for their poor finishing when Riquelme found Saviola bursting into the penalty area and he finished slickly to double Argentina’s lead.
The pace slowed early in the second half but Riquelme continued to mesmerise when on the ball as Argentina took a stranglehold on possession. In contrast Ivory Coast seemed bereft of attacking ideas as they struggled to break down a well-organised defence.
Drogba awoke the crowd from their slumber midway through the second period when he twisted away from Ayala in the box but the Chelsea striker was unable to direct his shot on target.
Kone flashed a shot wide as Ivory Coast attempted to take the game to Argentina, but Pekerman’s side has little trouble containing the sporadic threats.
However with 9 minutes remaining Drogba reduced the arrears with a neat left-footed finish to set up an exciting finale to what had been an absorbing encounter.
Drogba’s goal ensured a nervous few minutes for Argentina, but they held firm to secure the three points.
Pekerman will have been relieved to have got a tough opener out of the way. They can look forward with a degree of optimism to reaching the knockout stages, and on this evidence, don’t rule out Ivory Coast joining them.
Argentina: Abbondanzieri, Burdisso, Ayala, Heinze, Sorin, Maxi, Mascherano, Cambiasso, Riquelme, Saviola, Crespo.
Subs: Palacio 64 (for Crespo), Gonzalez 76 (for Saviola) Aimar 92 (for Riquelme)
Bookings: Saviola 41, Heinze 49, Gonzalez 81.
Ivory Coast: Tizie, Eboue, Kolo Toure, Meite, Boka, Akale, Zokora, Kalou, Keita, Gneri Yaya Toure, Drogba.
Subs: Dibdane 55 (for Kalou), Kone 62 (for Akane), Kone 77 (for Keita).
Bookings: Eboue 61, Drogba 90.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).
Argentina: Crespo 24, Saviola 38
Ivory Coast: Drogba 82