Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni insisted his side can compete with any team at the World Cup, after their 3-0 win over Italy in the UEFA/CONMEBOL Finalissima at Wembley on Wednesday.

The Albiceleste were ruthless in transition, pouncing on any opportunity to counter, with first-half goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria capped off by Paulo Dybala's second-half injury-time strike.

Argentina set a new national team record in the process, now moving to 32 matches unbeaten.

On the back of 2021's Copa America triumph, Scaloni said that while his team is strong as any heading into Qatar, success will only come through spirit.

"What counts is the spirit of sacrifice, struggle and team spirit shown by the group, beyond the results," he told ESPN Argentina. "What we want is a performance, to know what the team is looking for on the pitch.

"There is, perhaps, too much enthusiasm [in the public], because in football when you think everything is done, they take you down with a stroke of the pen. We do know that we are going to go to a World Cup to compete on an equal footing with any team.

"We believe that the confidence of winning frees you from many things, but we are not exempt from the fact that the team can block itself at some point and that is what worries me. We have to be prepared in case fate takes a turn."

The South American champions faced difficulty as the game compressed despite the majority of possession. Chiefly through Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, they sprung into life whenever space opened.

Much like their struggles late in the World Cup qualification phase – which culminated in playoff elimination at the hands of North Macedonia – Italy looked lifeless without Marco Verratti on the other hand, managing only one shot in the penalty area.

Scaloni conceded the result belied certain aspects of his team's performances, but is buoyed by a similar spirit that propelled the team to success in Brazil last year.

"I don't know if it's the best game we played," he said post-match. "In the first half I think they put us in trouble, at times. We feel comfortable afterwards.

"I want that every time we get together we are in the same way, united as we are now. The World Cup is going to be something else, it has a different pressure. Now people enjoy and it is the most important thing for us."

Italy coach Roberto Mancini promised changes after a difficult few months for the Azzurri was compounded by a crushing defeat to Argentina in Wednesday's Finalissima.

Argentina were comprehensive 3-0 winners at Wembley, as the CONMEBOL/UEFA 'Cup of Champions' was revived for the first time since 1993.

Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala got the goals as Lionel Messi pulled the strings, but in truth Italy were fortunate to only lose 3-0 against a hugely impressive Albiceleste.

It was only Italy's second match since their shock World Cup qualifying defeat to North Macedonia in March, with that loss preventing them from reaching Qatar 2022.

Despite the Azzurri winning Euro 2020 less than a year ago, Mancini is already looking to instigate something of a rebuild.

But he was keen to pay tribute to those who have played a key role over the past four years.

"In the first half we made two mistakes on their two goals, then they were better at keeping the ball," Mancini is quoted as saying by Sky Italia.

"They were better than us, but I must say thanks to these guys who have played in these four years.

"There is regret for the lack of qualification for the World Cup, and tonight's match was initially balanced, then they had superior quality to us.

"After this match we had in mind to change several things and we will do it. We need to find the players, put together a team that will suffer at the beginning and that in the future will be able to give us joy."

Clearly, the attack will be Mancini's primary focus in any rebuild as he rued a lack of threat going forward.

"We have great difficulty scoring at the moment, and we have to work a lot knowing that it will not be so simple and it will take time [to overcome their issues]," he continued.

"After the European Championship we struggled to score and we have to find solutions in this sense and try to be fast, but it will not be easy to put together a team that gives us short-term satisfaction even if there are good guys. We will have to make as few mistakes as possible.

"I have optimism. I like to work and train. It's true that we lost against a great Argentina team, but we must know that there will also be these moments and we must make sure that the youngest players learn quickly."

Italy now turn their attention to the Nations League. They face Germany on Saturday and again on June 14 – matches against Hungary and England are sandwiched in between.

Argentina's impressive 3-0 Finalissima win over Italy saw La Albiceleste set a national new record of 32 matches unbeaten.

Lionel Scaloni's men were sensational at Wembley, producing a dominant and rampant performance that could have seen them claim an even more one-sided victory.

Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala got the goals, while Lionel Messi pulled the strings as Argentina made something of a statement less than six months before the World Cup.

Argentina's last defeat was a 2-0 loss to bitter rivals Brazil in the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa America, but they got their revenge in the final last year, beating the Selecao 1-0 at the Maracana to clinch their first title in 28 years.

Their 32 games unbeaten is a new record for official games, though Argentina did go 33 matches without defeat under Alfio Basile – that run included two fixtures not recognised by FIFA as they were against the Rest of America and the Rest of World in 1991.

Argentina's streak is the longest currently intact in international football and leaves them just five adrift of the all-time record set by Italy themselves last year.

Argentina made an early statement of intent ahead of the World Cup with an impressively dominant 3-0 win over Italy to win the UEFA/CONMEBOL Finalissima at Wembley.

Although Italy failed to qualify for Qatar 2022, few would have expected the European champions to be so stunningly outclassed by the Copa America 2021 winners.

Much of the pre-game focus was on Giorgio Chiellini, but the last game of his distinguished international career ended at half-time with Argentina deservedly 2-0 up thanks to goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria.

Italy somehow prevented the inspired Lionel Messi and Di Maria adding more gloss to the scoreline, but Paulo Dybala finally got their third with the last kick of the game.

A brilliant intervention by Cristian Romero had earlier denied Andrea Belotti a simple finish in the 20th minute, with the striker then seeing a looping header saved by Emiliano Martinez a few moments later.

But Argentina soon took charge.

Messi wonderfully turned away from Giovanni Di Lorenzo and held him off before passing across goal for Martinez to tap home.

The Inter forward then turned provider on the stroke of half-time, spinning Leonardo Bonucci and feeding Di Maria, who lifted an audacious chip over the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Roberto Mancini made three changes at the break but if anything Argentina only became more dominant – Donnarumma desperately scurried back to stop a Bonucci back-pass going in, before importantly denying the excellent Di Maria twice.

Giovani Lo Celso then missed an open goal – albeit from a slightly tight angle – after great work by Messi, who subsequently tested Donnarumma twice.

But Donnarumma was eventually beaten again at the end, substitute Dybala finding the bottom-right corner after a solo Messi run terrified the Italy defence.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni says Italy did not deserve to miss out on the World Cup, while he cannot see Paulo Dybala being distracted by speculation over his future.

Euro 2020 winners Italy and Copa America champions Argentina meet in the 'Finalissima' at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

But there is no chance of the pair meeting in Qatar next November after Italy failed to make a second straight World Cup following play-off defeat against North Macedonia in March.

That led to questions over Roberto Mancini's future and the Italian system for failing to produce young players, with the Azzurri reliant on experienced campaigners such as Giorgio Chiellini and Ciro Immobile.

Scaloni was quick to back his opposite number Mancini as he expressed his dismay at Italy faltering in World Cup qualification.

"Italy did not deserve not to go to the World Cup, they are still European champions, a great team," Scaloni told reporters on Tuesday.

"There are games in which the ball does not want to enter the goal, and that's how the games are lost. But Mancini has done a great job, restoring a clear identity to Italy after so many years.

"I don't think he will make a lot of changes now, rather it will gradually change as we did: it happens to all national teams sooner or later that they have to change. Now they can start over."

Meanwhile, Dybala is heading for the exit door at Juventus when his contract expires in June, with Inter reportedly the favourites to sign the Bianconeri talisman.

As speculation persists over the future of the Argentina forward, Scaloni insisted that will not impact Dybala's performances for his country.

"These are situations that we have all had," Scaloni said of Dybala. "The important thing is that the players choose with their heads and then play.

"They are professionals and know how to manage certain situations. He is an extraordinary player and boy. He didn't play as much with us as we wanted, but we hope he will be a good choice for us in the future."

New Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci hopes to start laying the foundations to rebuild the Azzurri when they face Argentina on Wednesday.

Italy won their first European Championship since 1968 by defeating England on penalties last July at Wembley.

Roberto Mancini's side return to Wembley to meet Argentina in the 'Finalissima' between the Euro 2020 winners and Copa America champions.

Italy have struggled since their last visit to England's national stadium; missing out on a second straight World Cup after falling to a stunning play-off defeat against North Macedonia.

Bonucci has replaced Giorgio Chiellini as skipper of both Juventus and Italy, with his defensive partner heading for the exit door in Turin and announcing he will retire from international football following the game against Argentina.

The 35-year-old Bonucci is relishing the challenge of facing Lionel Scaloni's side.

"They are among the best in the world, Argentina hasn't lost in 31 games and it's no coincidence," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"We need maximum commitment and respect. We must start again and lay the foundations to bring Italy back to the top."

Argentina captain Lionel Messi suggested Italy would have been favourites for the World Cup should they have appeared in Qatar, and Bonucci expressed his gratitude for those comments.

"The fault is ours, it took very little to be able to play in something truly unique for a player's career," he added.

"We thank Messi for the kind words he said about us; tomorrow two winning national teams will meet and we want to put on a show to take the trophy home."

Bonucci hailed Messi, who will aim to guide Argentina to their third World Cup win and first since 1986.

"For a player who has won so many Golden Balls it is difficult to find words to described him," the Juve defender continued. 

"He was, and still is today, with Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best in the world – great respect will be needed."

As for Chiellini's international retirement, Bonucci hopes to give him a fitting send-off as he outlined his own plans for captaincy.

"We must enjoy this last day with him, he was a great companion on the pitch and in life," he said. "From the day after tomorrow I will continue to do what I have always done, to be an example.

"From Chiellini I learned the ability to work out difficult situations in a short time and find the solution.

"That is the secret that made Giorgio a great person and a great captain, I'll try to smooth out the flaws. My team-mates will have to help me too, just as we helped Chiellini and [Gianluigi] Buffon."

Italy coach Roberto Mancini reiterated his disappointment with the Italian system failing to produce young footballers, but only promised to give youngsters a chance after the clash with Argentina.

The Azzurri lifted Euro 2020 after a penalty shoot-out victory over England last July but failed to qualify for a second straight World Cup following play-off disappointment against North Macedonia in March.

That led to questions towards Mancini and Italian football over the lack of trust placed in younger players, with the more experienced campaigners such as Ciro Immobile and Giorgio Chiellini preferred.

Mancini subsequently suggested that Italy are suffering as Serie A coaches refuse to provide youthful members of their clubs the opportunities to develop.

Italy face Argentina at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday in a meeting between the European Championship winners and Copa America champions, though Mancini appears reluctant to trust his younger players yet.

"Tomorrow will be the match that will end a cycle," the Azzurri boss told reporters on Tuesday.

"It does not mean that 15-20 players will leave, but from Wednesday we will include young players to understand how much they are worth and if we can count on them for the future.

"In the meantime, I must continue to choose the players always with a logical criterion, then courage will be needed because it will be a younger group that will need to be supported in a different way.

"We will not change the whole team, but in the four games one, two, three or four young people will play.

"This will also be a great thing to do. We are trying to work for the future, to improve. If the clubs do or do not let the young players play, I cannot decide.

"We will try to have more knowledge of the young people and we want to do things well, but we certainly cannot pray to anyone if they don't want to do it.

"We managed to win a European championship anyway, despite many difficulties."

Despite not having the likes of Immobile, Federico Chiesa, Domenico Berardi and Marco Verratti to call upon, Mancini expects his side to compete well against Argentina.

Asked if his side will still be able to put on a show, Mancini responded: "I think so, even if we are missing several players. I would have liked to have all the boys here, they deserved it.

"We have a good match ahead of us. It is nice to play this match, Italy-Argentina is a classic of world football and it will also be a tribute to many players.

"It is a great pleasure to be here, not even 12 months ago we were here to celebrate [winning Euro 2020 at Wembley] and for this reason, there is also a bit of emotion."

Lionel Messi says there can be "no doubts" Karim Benzema would be a worthy Ballon d'Or winner after the Real Madrid star cemented his frontrunner status with Champions League glory.

The France international is the favourite to succeed the Argentinian as the next recipient of the game's most prestigious individual prize after inspiring his side to domestic and European success this term.

Benzema netted 44 goals in 46 games across all competitions this term for Carlo Ancelotti's side and led them in Paris to victory over Liverpool on Saturday as captain.

Messi, who has added to his trophy cabinet with a Ligue 1 title at Paris Saint-Germain in his first year away from Barcelona, certainly feels Benzema has earned his shot at the award.

"I think there is no doubts," Messi told TyC Sports when asked if the Frenchman would be a fitting successor as the Ballon d'Or winner.

"It is very clear that Benzema had a spectacular year and ended up consecrating himself with the Champions League, being fundamental from the round of 16 onwards in all the games.

"I think there are no doubts this year."

Messi also reflected on his triumph in 2021, when he defended the crown he won in 2019 against Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski after the award was cancelled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lewandowski would have been many people's favourite in 2020 and went on break Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 Bundesliga goals in a single season the following year.

Yet he was forced to make do with second behind Messi after he helped Argentina to their first Copa America success in 28 years.

Messi acknowledged Lewandowski would have been a worthy winner in 2020, but on reflection feels he deserved the 2021 triumph he was awarded.

"What I said at that moment was from my heart and because I really felt that way," Messi said, alluding to his comments at the 2021 Ballon d'Or ceremony.

"I said that he deserved the Ballon d'Or before, because the year before it had seemed to me that he had been the best.

"But the year that I won, he wasn't the best. I just said that. But let him take it as he wants. Everyone says what they want and obviously he can express himself and say what he wants.

"Honestly, I don't share what he said, but I didn't give it much importance either. That's it, he can say what he wants, I'm not interested."

Gianluigi Donnarumma hailed the "perfect year" after Paris Saint-Germain and Milan won their respective leagues, but the goalkeeper has no regrets after leaving the Rossoneri.

Donnarumma was met with widespread condemnation by the Milan supporters after not renewing his contract, before opting to join PSG on a free transfer ahead of the 2021-22 season following his successful Euro 2020 campaign with Italy.

The 23-year-old kept five clean sheets in his 17 Ligue 1 appearances as he shared the goalkeeper duties with Keylor Navas, with PSG securing a record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 title.

Milan, meanwhile, edged out Inter to secure their first Serie A crown in 11 years, much to the delight of Donnarumma.

"After winning the title, the perfect year was the Scudetto of Milan and I congratulate them, they did an incredible job and I'm proud of them," said Donnarumma in a news conference on Sunday.

"I have no regret, I'm happy with what Milan have done and I wrote to all my team-mates to congratulate them."

Donnarumma was also praised the performance of fellow goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was on top form to help Real Madrid to a 1-0 Champions League final victory over Liverpool on Saturday.

Courtois pulled off nine stops in the final, the most on record since Opta began recording data in 2003-04, as Madrid secured a 14th European Cup, more than double any other side.

"I saw the match and he played an incredible match, he kept Real Madrid standing until the end," Donnarumma said of Courtois.

"It made me feel a bit like we could have been there, but unfortunately football is like that. They won and I congratulate Courtois, he made great interventions."

Donnarumma's focus now turns to the 'Finalissima' between Italy and Argentina at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday, in a meeting between the European Championship and Copa America winners.

Italy defeated England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley before missing out on World Cup qualification for Qatar after play-off defeat to North Macedonia.

"We must not forget what we did at the European Championship, this is a fantastic group and they gave us an incredible result," Donnarumma added.

"The disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup is still fresh, we are still disappointed. It hurts, some guys will no longer be with us but we young people must bring Italy back to where it deserves."

Roberto Mancini will have Giorgio Chiellini to call upon for one final game before his international retirement, and Donnarumma says Italy will miss the experienced centre-back.

"We will miss everything about Giorgio, both on and off the pitch he was a point of reference for Italian and world football, especially for us young people," he continued. 

"He gave us great help, now we want to give him great joy. He will be missed on the pitch, he is truly fantastic and will always give you a hand, even just with a simple word."

Lautaro Martinez does not know where Inter-linked forward Paulo Dybala will play next season but hopes it will be "where he is happy".

Dybala's contract at Juventus is expiring, making him one of the most sought-after free agents of the upcoming transfer window.

Widespread reports have suggested he is most likely to join Argentina team-mate Martinez at Inter – although the Nerazzurri striker is also the subject of transfer speculation.

But as the pair link up on national team duty, Martinez insists Dybala's club future has been set to one side.

"We didn't touch the subject," Martinez told TyC Sports. "We talk about many things, about his situation and everything, but today he is thinking about the national team.

"His future will be decided when these games are over.

"He is a player with quality, personality and I hope he plays where he feels most comfortable, where he is happy."

Martinez is also focused on his role with Argentina, looking ahead to the World Cup in Qatar later this year – the first of his Albiceleste career.

"[The World Cup] is a dream I have had since childhood," Martinez said. "With my family, I constantly talk about this – they are all football fans.

"If I think now about what could happen, anxiety comes to me. I hope we can leave a good impression.

"These are dreams you always have. First your dreams are of being a professional, then they are renewed. Today I am months away from this [dream]; I hope it can be fulfilled and I can help my team-mates."

Even before that, at the start of June, Argentina have the Finalissima against Italy at Wembley to look forward to, pitting the Copa America winners against the European champions – an eagerly awaited fixture for Italy-based Martinez, even if the Azzurri will not be in Qatar.

"It will be an important game for us because of what the opponent means, beyond the fact that they have been left out of this World Cup," he said.

"We know their characteristics, their players, they are a high-level opponent. We have a very important test ahead to see where we stand."

Marcos Senesi appears certain to be involved in June's Finalissima, and Argentina hope he will turn out in the Albiceleste.

The Feyenoord defender was born in Argentina but also holds an Italian passport.

Senesi remains uncapped and is said to be a target for Italy ahead of the June international break, in which they will play Argentina as part of the Finalissima between the European Championship winners and Copa America champions.

Lionel Scaloni has moved first by including Senesi in his preliminary squad, however, named on Friday.

And Senesi could get his opportunity as Cristian Romero, also called up by Scaloni, has been ruled out for the rest of the club season with Tottenham.

"We understood in the last few days that Romero had a serious injury and has finished this season," Spurs coach Antonio Conte said. "There are only two games to go and he has no time to recover for these two games."

After playing Italy at Wembley on June 1, Argentina also have a friendly on June 11 against Brazil, whom they must play again in a replayed World Cup qualifier.

Argentina squad in full:

Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Atalanta), Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal), Franco Armani (River Plate); Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nahuel Molina (Udinese), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Marcos Senesi (Feyenoord), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Nehuen Perez (Udinese), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla); Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton and Hove Albion), Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Giovani Lo Celso (Villarreal), Papu Gomez (Sevilla), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa); Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Joaquin Correa (Inter), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Lautaro Martinez (Inter).

A little over two minutes before the moment that will forever define his career, Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero showed sharpness in the QPR goalmouth that would not have been out of place at Old Trafford.

Old Trafford cricket ground that is, just down the road from City's bitter rivals Manchester United and their home of the same name.

As Edin Dzeko's equaliser from David Silva's right-wing corner bounced back off the netting, Aguero pounced, snaffling it like a short-leg fielder and darting back to the centre circle for City's final tilt at the improbable. It was 2-2, the Premier League title could still be won.

There was certainly nothing wrong with striker Aguero's movement after Joey Barton brazenly tried to dead leg him – one of many surreal and key incidents that fed into a frenzied and famous race against the clock on May 13, 2012.

Ten years on, as a statue of Aguero is revealed, this is a reminder of the special moment that brought City their first top-flight league title in 44 years.

The whole story is now as well-worn as any in football history.

On the cusp of a first top-flight title for 44 years, Robert Mancini's Manchester City faced relegation-threatened QPR on the final day of the season. In their previous 18 Premier League home matches that season, they had won 17 and drawn the other – the most recent of those being a 1-0 win over United that tipped a titanic Mancunian tussle back towards the blue side of town.

City simply needed to match United's result at Sunderland and led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Pablo Zabaleta, only for second-half goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie to turn the contest on its head.

It remained 2-1 heading into stoppage time despite QPR operating with 10 men. City youth product Barton was dismissed for tussling with Carlos Tevez and responded to Mike Dean's red card by thumping his knee into Aguero's thigh before aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany. Fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli poured some petrol on this particular bonfire by confronting the combustible Barton as he stomped towards the tunnel.

Aside from that significant blemish, QPR's discipline was impeccable. Despite ceding 81.3 possession overall and 84.1 per cent during the second half, they only made seven fouls. Stoppages were infrequent as City thrashed and flailed with increasing desperation and diminishing artistry around the opposition penalty area.

Without Barton's meltdown, there is little chance five minutes of stoppage time - or the three minutes and 20 seconds they ultimately required - would have been signalled. It was time City desperately needed and time they could put to good use with their top scorer's fast-twitch fibres bristling.

Barton was not the only QPR man with City connections. His team-mates Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had also graduated through Jim Cassell's Platt Lane youth system, while Rangers boss Mark Hughes was Mancini's immediate predecessor, having been axed shortly before Christmas in 2009.

Hughes, of course, also played for United with distinction across two spells, and those loyalties struck a chord as news came through Bolton Wanderers had failed to beat Stoke City, meaning the Londoners were safe irrespective of the outcome at the Etihad Stadium.

"[City] got back on level terms and I always remember, at that point, I knew we were safe because the other result came in," Hughes told the Coaches Voice in 2020.

"I'm thinking, 'I wouldn't mind United winning, if I'm honest'. It's 2-2 and Jay Bothroyd looked over, asking what we wanted them to do [from the restart]. The players understood the [Bolton] game was over and we'd stayed up. We just said kick it as far as you can, right in the corner and the game's over."

Hughes' recollections from that point credit City with a poise they absolutely lacked. Rarely can a team have scored twice in this space of two minutes and – save for a crucial few seconds – played so shambolically.

Bothroyd's hoof found touch and scampering Joe Hart ran out of his goal to take the throw-in. The England goalkeeper almost missed the pitch.

Gael Clichy carried the ball down the flank, only for his attempted cross to turn into a block tackle with Mackie. Samir Nasri's aimless, floated effort that followed did little more than give Clint Hill a ninth successful clearance of the afternoon.

Nasri then excelled himself by shepherding the ball out for a QPR throw-in. Just 40 seconds before that explosion of ecstasy there was fury and anguish in the stands. Aguero watched it all from roughly the QPR penalty spot. Apparently he'd seen quite enough.

Aguero honed his lethal skills playing against bigger boys in Buenos Aires on the neighbourhood potrero – the hard gravel and mud neighbourhood pitches that football purists in Argentina bemoan are a diminishing presence.

"When you play you have to think fast. Who to take on, who not," Aguero said when recalling those days in a 2018 documentary for City's in-house television channel. "You know who is going to play dirty, who isn't.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

Reflecting further in the 2019 book 'Pep's City' by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, he further explained the proving ground that readied him for Barton and others.

"Getting kicked black and blue was all part of the game," he said. "You held on to the ball any way you could.

"Running with the ball was a whole different concept for us. I'd be up against big, tough boys and I was always the smallest. But I learned how to survive."

Aguero remembered those matches were played for the prize of a peso, which would garner one of his favourite sweet treats, an alfajor or dulce de leche.

As United's players took in full-time and three points at the Stadium of Light, and Nigel de Jong brought the ball forward in Manchester to the soundtrack of QPR celebrations – their fans aware of Bolton's fate – the stakes were somewhat higher.

Vacating his spot in a penalty area already crowded by substitutes Dzeko and Balotelli, along with a marauding Kompany, Aguero took possession from De Jong 30 yards from goal.

He faced up to a compact QPR back four, with the visitors' four midfielders all in his immediate vicinity.

A shuffling touch to his left engineered space outside Shaun Derry, but Aguero needed help. Ideally from someone reliable, given the complete lack of any margin for error.

Balotelli was on the pitch in a Manchester City shirt for the first time in over a month.

Mancini had not trusted his wayward protege since a red card in a 1-0 Easter Sunday defeat at Arsenal left City eight points behind United with six games to play. Tevez represented a far more dependable option.

But with nowhere left to turn, Aguero dared and prayed for Mario to be super.

Introduced in the 76th minute, Balotelli gave the impression he had not just been banished from Premier League arenas, but football pitches altogether since his previous game.

The Italy striker managed to run through seven goal attempts – two on target, five blocked – during a frenzied cameo. It was probably as well Aguero found him with his back to goal, inside the D and grappling with Anton Ferdinand.

"I tried to control the ball and I had a contact from the defender and the ball went a little bit far from my foot," Balotelli told City TV five years on. "I thought in that half second there is maybe going to be a little bit of space for Sergio."

If Balotelli had stayed upright, the likelihood is QPR would have seen through their final piece of dogged tireless defending. In being forced on to his backside for the only assist of his Premier League career, he created opportunity and chaos.

Facing his own goal, Derry had to hurdle a prone Balotelli, while Wright-Phillips' route back to defend was also compromised. With his centre-back partner grounded, Hill held his position square on, while Kompany's haring towards the six-yard box dragged left-back Taye Taiwo with him.

A pocket of space opened up. A spot of turf Balotelli was able to locate from his sedentary position. As limbs flailed around him and a tight defence scattered, Aguero was thinking fast.

Argentina's tradition of tough, uncompromising neighbourhood football goes hand in hand with the mystique and mythology that cloaks the country's national sport.

A playing style grounded in skill and improvisation – La Nuestra, which translates as "our way" – was locked into the collective consciousness during the first half of the 20th century. The pre-eminent football magazine El Grafico, served to deepen this romantic attachment, with depictions of the pibe – literally a kid or urchin, whose rough and ready footballing technique combined street smarts and skill and was something of an archetype. Typically they would dribble in the gambeta style, a description that implies close control, cunning and deceit of opponents.

The idea that the likes of Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega, Lionel Messi and all those other squat, explosive and technically brilliant attackers from Argentina immersed themselves in the yellowed pages of El Grafico archive is far-fetched, but the style is unquestionably embedded. Think of the amount of barrelling, dribbling goals such players have produced – close control, small pauses and faints as thighs piston their way through defences.

As the walls were closing in on City's title bid, Aguero showed himself to be a proud product of this lineage. When Balotelli began his battle against gravity, he deftly checked his run behind and around Wright-Phillips to open up a path to the penalty area.

Letting the pass roll, he shaped to shoot, drawing a scampering Taiwo, who left his Kompany decoy a little too late to remain in control. Aguero did not actually touch Balotelli's return pass until his body position persuaded a rash slide tackle that he nudged beyond with the outside of his right boot.

With Taiwo suitably gambeta'd, there came one last stroke of fortune.

"I touched it again and saw I was close to the goal, so I said 'I'll shoot'. The worst thing was that I wanted to shoot hard across goal and it went to the near post, I don't know what happened," Aguero told TyC Sports – the latter sentiment at least aligning him with every soul inside the Etihad Stadium that day.

"After watching it back, I realised that if I had shot across goal a defender could have blocked it. I celebrated the goal and told everybody, 'I hit it so well!'."

Goal 23 of a personal Premier League tally that reached 184, one of 130 with Aguero's ferocious right boot, understandably left an indelible impression on the suddenly defeated Hughes.

"Of all the games I've been involved in, that noise at that moment when that goal went in is different to anything I've ever heard before or since," Hughes said.

"It was just unbelievable sound – different sound to a football crowd. It was a mixture of screaming and noise. It was just an unbelievable moment."

That racket has since been replayed thousands of times across the world. A goal on a tightrope that altered the course of English football, which began with gifting the opposition a 92nd-minute throw-in and ended thanks to a miscue after the main protagonist's strike partner fell over.

It is the Premier League's most famous goal – a moment as synonymous with Manchester as cotton mills and the Hacienda, and yet Argentinian to its very bones.

Whether 10 years on, 20 years on, or 50 years on, expect to see it replayed another few thousand times. On the blue side of Manchester, it stands as an immortal moment.

FIFA has confirmed Brazil and Argentina will have to replay last September's abandoned World Cup qualifier after rejecting appeals from both countries' football federations. 

The original fixture in Sao Paolo was abandoned after just five minutes when Brazilian health officials entered the pitch, with players Emiliano Martinez, Emiliano Buendia, Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso accused by the Brazilian government of providing false information on their immigration forms and breaking the nation's Covid-19 laws.

FIFA's original ruling on the matter was announced in February, ordering the fixture to be replayed with all four of those players suspended and handing fines to both sides.

Both countries' federations subsequently lodged appeals against those measures, but FIFA has now confirmed the fixture will be replayed at an as-yet unspecified date and venue.

A statement from world football's governing body on Monday said: "The FIFA Appeal Committee has taken decisions on the appeals lodged by the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) and the Argentinian Football Association (AFA).

"After analysing the submissions of both parties and considering all circumstances of the case, the Appeal Committee confirmed that the match would be replayed and also upheld the fine of CHF 50,000 that was imposed on both associations as a result of the abandonment."

Brazil and Argentina have both qualified for the tournament in Qatar in comfortable fashion, with Brazil sitting top of the CONMEBOL qualification group with 45 points after an as-yet unbeaten campaign, and Argentina second with 39 points, meaning the replayed fixture will have no impact on the final standings.

The shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the "Hand of God" goal has fetched over £7million at auction, the highest price ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia.

Maradona scored two of the most memorable goals in World Cup history to knock England out at the quarter-final stage in the 1986 tournament in Mexico.

The late, great former Argentina captain rose above Peter Shilton to knock the first in with his fist at the Azteca Stadium, with the officials failing to spot the infringement.

Moments later, he beat a series of England players with a sublime dribble on the way to scoring a magnificent solo goal as Argentina won 2-1 and went on to be crowned world champions.

England midfielder Steve Hodge ended up with the shirt after swapping with Maradona – who passed away in November 2020 – following the match.

The shirt has been on loan to the National Football Museum in Manchester, but was put up for auction at Sotheby's in London for a bidding period between April 20 to May 4, with estimators expecting it to collect around £4m.

However, the successful bid ended up being significantly higher, with Sotheby's confirming on Wednesday that the shirt went for a whopping £7,142,500.

That eye-watering total makes it the most expensive piece of sporting attire in history, with a 1928-30 road jersey of baseball icon Babe Ruth setting the previous record in 2019, going for £4.4m ($5.6m).

The shirt Diego Maradona wore in the game against England when he scored the infamous "Hand of God" goal is expected to be sold for at least £4million at auction.

Maradona scored two of the most memorable goals in World Cup history to knock the Three Lions out at the quarter-final stage in the 1986 tournament in Mexico.

The late, great former Argentina captain rose above Peter Shilton to punch his side into the lead at the Azteca Stadium and the officials failed to spot that he had handled the ball.

He then beat a host of England players before scoring a magnificent solo goal and his double was decisive as La Albiceleste won 2-1 and went on to be crowned champions.

Maradona stated that his opening goal was scored "a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God" and felt he had gained "symbolic revenge" for the United Kingdom's victory over Argentina in the Falkland Islands War.

The mercurial Napoli legend swapped shirts with England midfielder Steve Hodge after the last-eight showdown.

The shirt has been on loan to the National Football Museum in Manchester, but will be on display at Sotheby's in London for a bidding period between April 20 to May 4 and it will not come cheap.

Brahm Wachter, head of Streetwear and modern collectables at Sotheby's, said: "The Hand of God is truly a singular moment not only in the history of sports, but in the history of the 20th century.

"The moment resonated far beyond the world of football, coming soon after the Falklands conflict, and has in turn inspired books, films, and documentaries. Maradona is now remembered as one of the greatest to ever play the game of football -- and this particular game is an instrumental part of his legacy.

"Of course, not only was 'The Hand of God' goal scored in this game, but also, the 'Goal of the Century' which is widely considered to be one of the greatest individual goals of all time."

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