Argentina inflamed their rivalry with England on the eve of the World Cup on Saturday, unfurling a banner claiming sovereignty of the Falkland Islands before defeating Slovenia 2-0.
Goals from Ricardo Alvarez and skipper Lionel Messi ensured a winning send-off for the hosts in front of 52,000 adoring fans in La Plata, north of Buenos Aires.
Argentina are in Group F at the World Cup against Nigeria, Bosnia and Iran, but the squad will have raised eyebrows in Britain showing off their politically charged banner declaring Las Malvinas Son Argentinas (The Malvinas are Argentine) to the crowd before kickoff.
The banner is regularly put on show before Argentina’s games, but the proximity to the World Cup brought new attention. The South Atlantic islands have been ruled by Britain since 1833, but Argentina claims them and in 1982 attempted to seize control, sparking a brief, but intense war.
Renewed diplomatic tensions over the islands have added a confrontational edge to a series of titantic battles between England and Argentina at the World Cup.
Four years after the war at the World Cup in 1986, Diego Maradona outraged the English with his punched “Hand of God” goal in the 2-1 quarter-final victory in Mexico.
Maradona later said bitterness over the Falklands conflict had motivated the Argentina against England.
“I know publicly we all used to say football has nothing to do with war, but intimately we knew a lot of our boys had died, shot down like little birds, and subconsciously we were aware of that,” Maradona said.
In 1998, an epic round-of-16 match at the World Cup in France ended in a 2-2 draw, with Argentina prevailing in a penalty shootout.
The match was famous for the red card shown to England’s David Beckham for kicking Diego Simeone.
Four years later, Beckham avenged the loss at the 2002 finals in Japan, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Argentina which helped to eliminate the South Americans in the group stage.
England and Argentina are not expected to cross paths at the World Cup in Brazil unless they both reach the semi-finals and the banner added to the party atmosphere in La Plata.
Argentina stars Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria started the game on the substitutes’ bench and only came on after an hour. Argentina were already one up through a long-range shot by Inter’s Alvarez.
Di Maria and Aguero laid on Messi’s goal after 75 minutes.
“We are going to Brazil with a lot of desire,” the Barcelona star said after the game, in which he scored his 38th goal for his country. “We are going to fight to come back with the World Cup.”
Argentina are second favorites with most bookmakers after hosts Brazil.
“We are a very strong team. We have been playing well for a while and gaining confidence,” Messi said.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said he wanted to get the tournament started.
“I’m never calm,” Sabella said.
“I’m always nervous and now even more anxious about the beginning [of the World Cup],” he told a press conference.
Argentina start against Bosnia on Saturday.