The Pumas, playing at home after a three year gap, won 26-18 in San Salvador de Jujuy in the first match of an historic three-Test series.
Gregor Townsend’s squad will now head to nearby Salta, venue for next Saturday’s second Test, looking to save the tour.
Grant Gilchrist, the Scotland captain, believes they can do it. “I saw enough in that game to believe we can bounce back next week,” said the skipper.
Argentina were worth the win, dominating the first half during which they scored tries through centre Jeromino de la Fuente and replacement stand-off Santiago Carreras.
The Scots rediscovered their mojo early in the second period and got back on terms thanks to tries from outside centre Mark Bennett and full-back Rory Hutchinson. But they lost a try almost immediately, to scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou, and could not find a way back.
It was a desperately disappointing outcome for Townsend and his squad who had travelled to South America without the rested Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris. They also had to cope without the injured Hamish Watson, whose place at openside flanker was taken by his Edinburgh team-mate Luke Crosbie, making his first Test start.
Argentina’s win completed a clean sweep for southern hemisphere sides over the home nations, with Ireland beating New Zealand, Australia getting the better of England and South Africa just edging out Wales.
It was Scotland’s first visit to Jujuy and they won’t have too many fond memories of the city, despite a hospitable welcome. A pipe band comprising Argentine musicians and known as the Buenos Aires Tartan Army played a rousing version of Flower of Scotland before kick-off but the Pumas national anthem was equally stirring and the home players looked very much up for it on their long awaited return home.
Due to Covid, Argentina hadn’t played in their homeland since 2019 and their return in Jujuy was not without obstacles. They lost scrum-half Tomas Cubelli to injury during the warm-up - he was replaced by Bertranou - and then veteran fly-half Nicholas Sanchez had to go off after 20 minutes when he appeared to turn his ankle.
The Stade Francais fly-half had already landed two penalties by this point but his departure saw Boffelli take over kicking duties. Carreras replaced Sanchez at 10 and made his mark as the half wore on.
Argentina, under the leadership of new coach Michael Cheika, had the lion’s share of early possession and territory and it took them only two minutes to get the first points on the board via Sanchez’s boot after good jackaling work by Juan Martin Gonzalez.
Kinghorn brought Scotland level with a penalty of his own after Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro had been penalised but Sanchez nudged the home side 6-3 ahead a couple of minutes later following a lineout infringement.
The stand-off limped off shortly afterwards and Boffelli was off target with a penalty attempt from wide of the right. A good kick-chase from Scotland yielded a penalty and Kinghorn knocked it over to make it 6-6 but things quickly unravelled for the tourists in the final 11 minutes of the half.
Argentina had looked more threatening and a slick handling move had the Scots on the back foot before de la Fuente forced his way over despite Ali Price’s best efforts to hold him up. Boffelli missed the conversion attempt from close to the left touchline but the hosts were now 11-6 ahead.
Scotland were carved open again five minutes later as full-back Juan Cruz Mallia broke free in midfield. He was stopped short of the line but as Argentina recycled, Kinghorn dived in so when the ball was popped up to Carrera the substitute stand-off had a clear sight off the line and plunged over. Boffelli made no mistake with the conversion on this occasion and Argentina went in at the break 18-6 ahead.
Scotland had offered little in attack in the first half, failing to breach the Argentina 22, but they came out for the second period with all guns blazing and drew level with two tries inside six minutes.
Kinghorn, who had failed to fire in the first 40, created both. His long, flat pass to Bennett allowed the Edinburgh centre to dart between two Argentine defenders and mark his first Scotland start in six years with a try.
Kinghorn couldn’t convert but set up Hutchinson for Scotland’s second try a few minutes later, running laterally then slipping in the full-back with a clever reverse pass. The stand-off then converted to make it 18-18 with 55 minutes on the clock.
Argentina’s response was impressive and immediate. Boffelli caught the restart and set in motion the move which culminated in Bertranou nabbing the Pumas’ third try, awarded only after a TMO consultation to check that the scrum-half had made it to the line.
Boffelli missed with his conversion attempt but landed an important penalty 14 minutes later to move the Pumas 26-18 ahead with only ten minutes remaining.
The momentum Scotland had created with their two quick scores early in the second half had all but disappeared and the Argentine pack were suffocating the life out of the game’s closing stages.
There was no way back, leaving the Scots to face up to their first defeat in Argentina since they lost in Rosario in 2008.
Scorers: Argentina: Tries: de la Fuente, Carreras, Bertranou. Con: Boffelli. Pens: Sanchez 2, Boffelli.
Scotland: Tries: Bennett, Hutchinson. Con: Kinghorn: Pens: Kinghorn 2.
Argentina: J C Mallia; S Cordero, M Orlando (Imhoff 66), J de la Fuente (M Moroni 57), E Boffelli; N Sanchez (S Carreras 20), G Bertranou; N T Chaparro (M Vivas 57), J Montoya (A Creevy 60), F G Kodela (J Sclavi 57), G Petti, M Alemanno (L Paulos 73), J M Gonzalez, M Kremer (F Isa 60), P Matera.
Scotland: R Hutchinson; D Graham, M Bennett, S Johnson (S Tuipulotu 72), D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, A Price (B White 68); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 60), G Turner (E Ashman 60), Z Fagerson (J Sebastian 60), G Gilchrist (c), J Gray (S Skinner 68), M Bradbury, L Crosbie (R Darge 52), M Fagerson.
Replacement not used: R Thompson.
Referee: Nic Berry (Aus).