LONDON (AFP) – Carlos Tevez ended his three-year international exile as World Cup runners-up Argentina came from behind to beat a second-string Croatia team 2-1 in a friendly in London on Wednesday.
Tevez last played for Argentina at the 2011 Copa America, having been frozen out by former coach Alejandro Sabella, but he made his comeback at the home of his old club West Ham United after being recalled by new coach Gerardo Martino.
The Juventus striker came on as a substitute for Sergio Aguero, who cancelled out Anas Sharbini’s early opener for Croatia with a fortuitous equaliser before Lionel Messi scored the winner with a 57th-minute penalty.
“Our goals were really nice goals and they came after mounting pressure,” said Martino, whose side face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Manchester next week.
“We still have to improve a lot, but there were some positive things. Some of the players who played today won’t play against Portugal, some will. We will give everyone minutes.”
Argentina have now won three and lost one of their four friendly games since their 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup final.
It was a first defeat in five games for Croatia, who have won their first four Euro 2016 qualifiers, but defeat was mitigated by the fact coach Niko Kovac had left his entire first XI back in Zagreb to prepare for Sunday’s encounter with Group H rivals Italy in Milan.
“I’m proud of what our team showed over 90 minutes against an Argentina team with so many great players,” said Kovac.
“I can only congratulate the players, who played wise, smart and disciplined, and showed great attitude and character.”
Having been mobbed on his arrival at Upton Park, Messi teed up Ever Banega to shoot wide after an early dart to the edge of the box, but it was Croatia who drew first blood in the 11th minute.
Mateo Kovacic was allowed to run at Argentina’s retreating defence before slipping a pass to Sharbini, who curled a first-time shot into the bottom-right corner.
It was to prove the cue for an Argentine onslaught. Aguero was twice denied by Croatia goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic – first from an improvised volley, then with a 25-yard pile-driver after a sumptuous piece of control – and then drilled narrowly wide.
Kalinic also saved a long-range effort from Angel di Maria at the second attempt and gathered a free-kick from Messi, who had earlier shot into the side-netting following a one-two with Christian Ansaldi.
Croatia survived until half-time, but three minutes after the restart their lead evaporated.
Left-back Ansaldi gathered a cross-field pass from Messi, cut inside and shot from 25 yards, and the ball flicked off Aguero’s elbow to leave Kalinic grasping at thin air.
The turnaround was complete before the hour, with Messi sending Kalinic the wrong way from the penalty spot after the Hajduk Split goalkeeper had up-ended Aguero.
It was the Barcelona superstar’s 45th international goal and came eight years after he opened his Argentina account against the same opposition.