Santa Fe - Argentina spoilt the debut of Italy coach Conor O'Shea with a 30-24 Test triumph in Santa Fe on Saturday thanks to two tries, and 20 points from flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez.
Former Ireland fullback O'Shea has vowed to create "the best Italian team ever" and will draw some comfort from the close scoreline after five heavy Six Nations beatings under French coach Jacques Brunel.
The Azzurri had a late chance to snatch victory when they dispossessed the Pumas after the hosts won a scrum close to their tryline, but the visitors were penalised.
Sanchez slotted six penalties and a conversion from nine shots at goal while rival playmaker Carlo Canna struck a conversion and four penalties from six attempts.
Argentina led 17-16 at half-time under a clear sky after each team scored one try and Sanchez and Canna rivalled each other in a goal-kicking duel.
Wing Manuel Montero, absent injured when Argentina finished fourth at the World Cup in England last year, was the Pumas' try scorer after 25 minutes to create a 11-6 advantage.
Veteran centre Juan Martin Hernandez delivered a perfectly weighted chip into the corner and Montero bravely dived to dot down under pressure from several Italians.
Leading 2015 World Cup points scorer Sanchez failed to convert from the touchline, his only miss of the half as he slotted four penalties from varied distances and angles.
Another wing, Leonardo Sarto, crossed the tryline for Italy on 33 minutes and the conversion by Canna left the home team just one point ahead.
Excellent support play followed by a dummy from centre Michele Campagnaro created just enough space for Sarto to get over in the corner.
The half-time score reflected the closeness of the Test with neither team gaining a distinct ascendancy in the set-pieces or loose exchanges.
But despite leading at the break, Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade will have been furious that a string of recent red and yellow cards and bans involving his players continued.
Lock Guido Petti was sin-binned on 28 minutes after one of the commonest fouls in southern hemisphere rugby - lifting an opponent, then 'dumping' him to the ground.
Prop Ramiro Herrera and lock Tomas Lavanini were ruled out of the Test because of Super Rugby shoulder-charge bans playing for the Jaguares, the Argentine national team in disguise.
Experienced international No 8 Leonardo Senatore was another absentee in Santa Fe as he is serving a 10-week suspension for biting.
Italy nudged ahead for the first time two minutes into the second half via a fourth Canna penalty only for Sanchez to atone for his second miss by kicking another penalty for a 20-19 lead.
That lead stretched to eight points as the Test reached the hour mark thanks to a try by wing Matias Moroni that Sanchez converted.
Sanchez was the architect of the try, breaking down the middle and passing to Moroni, who cut inside and shrugged off a tackle.
A sixth successful Sanchez penalty and the Pumas were 30-19 ahead before Italy stayed in contention through an unconverted pushover try by flank Simone Favaro.
Argentina now host France in a two-Test series, starting next Sunday, while Italy continue an Americas tour with one-off Tests against the United States and Canada.