Australia 0 - Argentina 1

Privileged. That should be the overwhelming feeling for those lucky 70,ooo or so fans who witnessed the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi live at the MCG tonight.

This was supposed to be the night where we bid a deserved farewell to a Socceroo stalwart, Josip Skoko, but it will be remembered as the night Argentina's little no. 19 wowed the G with his unique football gifts.

Controlling the match with his sublime left foot, it was Messi who dictated the tempo throughout as he demanded the ball, turned, tempted and teased the opposition. Then, with one or two defenders facing up to him (it made no difference), he would just explode off the mark, the ball seemingly glued to his foot.

On another day he might have had a penalty or two as poor David Carney, Michael Beauchamp and Lucas Neill struggled to deal with his guile, technique, pace and ability to link up with his teammates.

Peeling wide to the right, as he does for Barcelona, this was always going to be a tough night for Carney (despite the pre-match talk it would be Luke Wilkshire’s job to mark him – Messi always plays on the right, where he can cut infield and run amok), a player still learning the art of defending. In that context, this was the steepest of learning curves, and while he couldn't get close to Messi a lot of the time, Carney never gave up.

And he won’t be the only left fullback to suffer at the hands of Messi. I remember one Champions League clash a couple seasons back on a patchy Stamford Bridge pitch where he put the cleaner through three Chelsea left backs.

It didn't take the Argentines long to identify the flanks as Australia's weakness, and they were soon overloading the wide positions, holding up the ball and waiting for the overlapping supporting run. It was a joy to watch, a lesson for us on how to keep the ball in tight space and build pressure.

Messi, so strong at shielding the ball, was getting able support down the right from skipper Javier Zanetti, himself such a fine keeper of the ball, while Carlos Tevez often peeled out to the left, where he was ably supported by both Mallorca's Jonas Guiterrez and Real Madrid's Gabriel Heinze. Playmaker Insua would drift both left and right, helping create overloads.

Argentina's work in transition in the first half was also easy on the eye. Quick to pounce on any loose ball in midfield, they got men forward swiftly, especially in the wide areas. On one occasion, Heinze got in behind down the left, and might have shot instead of trying the cut-back, but hard to be critical about such a flowing build-up.

But the Argentines didn't have it all their own way. This might have been a friendly in name, but, refreshingly, it was a very competitive one. While the visitors were building up for their marathon World Cup qualification campaign and keen to redress a couple of recent losses, the Aussies were keen to exorcise their own recent demons, give Skoko and Graham Arnold a fitting send-off and, knowing that Dick Advocaat was likely to ask for the DVD, press their individual claims for the qualifiers that start in February.

Up front there were some promising signs for both Archie Thompson and Josh Kennedy, while Mark Bresciano looked in the mood over the dead ball. Just when you think you’ve seen everything in football comes a free-kick that hits the crossbar, bounces off Roberto Abbondanzieri’s back onto the crossbar and then back off the keeper’s back, just wide of the post.

In midfield, Jason Culina and Vince Grella looked happy to be back in familiar conditions, and it was good to seen Culina contributing further up the pitch.

But while the Socceroos had the odd half-chance, they couldn’t mount any sustained pressure in the first period.

After Martin Demichelis’s goal, wonderfully supplied by Messi, you sensed Argentina were just happy to sit back and soak up whatever Australia could throw at them, almost as if they were role-playing for a day when they are under the pump.

While the Socceroos bossed the ball in the final half-hour, few chances were created, a clear sign of the gulf in class, and an indicator of what we need to keep aspiring to produce.

Argentina, a world power, produce players who can make things happen in the final third and the fact they could bring Javier Saviola and under 20s golden ball winner Sergio Aguerro off the bench told of their riches. Australia, at least for now, can only dream.

written by Tony Tannous on The Roundball Analyst