In-form di Maria can thrill in Messi's place at Kallang
In-form Argentina star ready to shine at Kallang after teasing and taunting Brazil
If Lionel Messi is skipping Singapore for his wedding, then Angel di Maria and the Lions will provide a welcome marriage of convenience.
The impish winger should be worth the price of admission on Tuesday.
He was the lone maverick in Melbourne last night, an illuminating presence in Argentina's tepid 1-0 victory over Brazil.
Considering the friendly was played on a retrofitted cricket pitch in chilly conditions, Messi could have been forgiven for looking ahead to his upcoming wedding.
He was subdued.
But di Maria was looking back to his heyday when he reigned in Spain and dazzled at the Bernabeu. He was occasionally sublime.
Along the left flank, the Paris St-Germain winger teased and taunted the Brazilians, going close to scoring twice and providing the assist for the only goal.
Di Maria's miserable stint in Manchester is now a distant memory. The smiling, effervescent merchant of magic is clearly enjoying his football.
Kallang will be lucky to have him. In truth, the same could be said of Melbourne.
Until the opening goal, the exhibition was the dampest of squibs.
It’s a very important win for usArgentina coach Jorge sampaoli
– it wasn’t just anothergame.
The trouble with these post-season friendlies played on the other side of the planet is that they are post-season friendlies played on the other side of the season.
A distinct lack of enthusiasm permeated both sides.
On the plus side for Singapore, Argentina in second gear will still offer an enlightening glimpse of the kind of football the Lions eventually hope to play.
In his first game in charge, coach Jorge Sampaoli opted for a 3-4-3 formation, which isn't too dissimilar from the 4-3-3 template that Michel Sablon, the Football Association of Singapore's technical director, is trying to roll out across the country.
We had the effort and the formation we wanted but we need more of the players performing at a higher level.Brazil coach Tite
Argentina's emphasis on defending and pressing high, counter-attacking quickly between the lines is very much the end goal for Sablon's Singapore.
The Belgian's coaching staff will bring their cameras to Kallang. Invaluable lessons are there to be learnt.
Going forward, di Maria danced down the left, working well with Paulo Dybala.
On the overlap, the Argentinian broke free and smacked his effort against the near post after five minutes and stung Weverton's gloves just before half-time. The 29-year-old also fed Dybala with an intelligent pass, only for the Juventus star to curl his strike wide.
In this mood, di Maria threatens to maul tender Lion Cubs. When he's on the ball and foraging, there will be nowhere to hide.
However, the Melbourne friendly offered Singapore a couple of slender straws to clutch.
It may well be wishful thinking, but Lions coach V Sundramoothy would have recognised that Sampaoli's new 3-4-3 is still being road-tested.
Dybala and Messi often retreated to the halfway line to collect possession from Ever Banega and Lucas Biglia. Their play was patchy.
Gonzalo Higuain barely saw the ball. He was substituted at half-time, presumably to alleviate the boredom.
Argentina are now onto their third coach in their World Cup qualifying campaign and it showed in Melbourne.
Their obdurate defending in Brazil three years ago has given way to an unsightly scrappiness. At fullback, there were more holes than a Donald Trump tweet.
Sampaoli's 3-4-3 encouraged the Brazilians to exploit spaces between the lines. Only a poor finish from Renato Augusto stopped the Selecao from going ahead.
But it was the Argentinians who broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time, thanks in large part to di Maria's vision.
His floated cross created panic in the Brazil box. Nicolas Otamendi headed against the post, but his defensive partner Gabriel Mercado knocked in the rebound.
Singapore will ignore set-pieces at their peril.
In the 63rd minute, a comedy of errors raised the MCG roof and defied belief as Gabriel Jesus exploited Argentina's defensive uncertainty.
The Manchester City striker sliced through a pair of centre backs, rounded the goalkeeper and then slammed his effort against the post from three metres.
Willian followed up with a second punchline, smashing his rebound against the other post.
It proved to be the highlight of an otherwise forgettable second half. Messi finished the match, but his contribution paled in comparison to di Maria.
The cheeky, scampering winger will be the one to watch at the National Stadium.
Frustrated fans thought they were coming for Messi. But they should stay for di Maria.