The home of West Ham saw the end of Carlos Tevez’s international exile, but the former Hammers favourite had to wait until after the hour mark to grace the east London stage once again.
Until then coach Gerardo Martino still had the likes of captain and star attraction Lionel Messi to call upon but it was a first international goal for Rijeka’s Anas Sharbini that gave Croatia a half-time lead.
Atletico Madrid full-back Christian Ansaldi also notched his maiden international strike to level matters after the break, albeit in fortuitous circumstances, before Messi put Argentina in front from the penalty spot – with his 45th international goal sealing the win.
Five of Martino’s starting line-up currently play in England, with Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria the two biggest Premier League stars on display.
It was an experimental side named for Croatia as coach Niko Kovac prepares for a Euro 2016 qualifier in Italy on Sunday, with players such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Dejan Lovren not even among the substitutes.
Despite the lack of major names, it took Croatia just over 10 minutes to expose an Argentina defence anchored by Premier League duo Santiago Vergini and Federico Fazio.
As Mateo Kovacic picked the ball up unchallenged on the edge of the box, the Inter midfielder fed Sharbini, who made no mistake as he bent his effort past Sergio Romero.
Argentina’s first chance came as Di Maria whipped in a cross that was diverted towards goal first time by Aguero, but the Manchester City man’s volley was straight at debutant Lovre Kalinic in the Croatian goal.
Aguero, with 11 goals in his last 10 games at club level, forced Kalinic into a much tougher save moments later as he collected a long ball forward with consummate ease before curling an effort towards the goalkeeper’s far post.
Now rampant, Messi could have been awarded a penalty as Marin Leovac went to ground in a last-gasp challenge, although Aguero should have buried the loose ball instead of firing wide when free in the box.
The Barcelona man took matters into his own hands 10 minutes before the break but could only hit the side netting after exchanging passes with Ansaldi.
The equaliser came early into the second half as Ansaldi drifted inside having been picked out superbly by Messi and his shot, which deflected off Aguero’s arm, beat Kalinic all ends up.
And Martino’s side were ahead shortly afterwards as Kalinic was adjudged to have brought down Aguero in the box, with Messi stepping up to convert the penalty, having missed his previous spot-kick in defeat to Brazil.
Tevez replaced Aguero on 62 minutes with Upton Park at its loudest point of the evening as their 2007 Premier League saviour made his return.
The Juventus forward passed up a golden chance to mark an emotional evening with a goal as he slid Di Maria’s perfectly-weighted ball wide of the post.
Another former Hammer, Javier Mascherano, came close to adding a third with a piledriver from long-range but Kalinic was equal to his strike.
Messi also hit the post as the beaten World Cup finalists recorded a hard-fought victory over Kovac’s much-changed side.