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A match short on quality was balanced on a knife edge until the Irish pack eventually assumed control, pounding the Pumas into submission with Tommy Bowe's late try sealing victory.
For all his contribution to the scoreboard O'Gara endured another disappointing afternoon that suggested his pre-match rallying cry was ill-advised.
The Lions fly-half had grabbed the headlines by declaring Ireland lack the pride and passion that is a hallmark of his province Munster.
But he failed to deliver himself this afternoon, with three penalties and a drop-goal earning the man of the match award but failing to mask an erratic afternoon full of errors.
O'Gara was not alone, however, in an unconvincing display by Ireland who could at least declare mission accomplished in avoiding defeat and retaining eighth place in the world rankings.
International Rugby Board standings will be used to determine the seedings for the World Cup and by dint of today's result they will avoid two a pool containing two heavyweights
The importance of the victory can not be overstated, as fans who watched Ireland unravel spectacularly amid heavyweight showdowns with France and Argentina last year will know.
A fearsome and bad-tempered rivalry had developed with Argentina over the course of their 10 previous meetings, with five wins apiece telling its own story.
The Pumas were forced into a late reshuffle when their brilliant fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez was withdrawn during the pre-match warm-up.
Losing Hernandez - Argentina's playmaker and points machine - was a savage blow yet his replacement Santiago Fernandez did the Stade Francais fly-half proud with a towering early bomb.
The flight of the kick deceived Bowe who was left floundering after the loose ball but it bounced away from lurking winger Rafael Carballo and Ireland were saved.
The match was shrouded in tension and tempers flared in the eighth minute, resulting in a warning from referee Bryce Lawrence delivered to both captains.
Ireland won the penalty which they used to build field position, but the subsequent back moves were telegraphed and failed to trouble the Pumas defence.
Jerry Flannery - one of three changes made to the side beaten 22-3 by New Zealand, limped off and was replaced by Rory Best as a physical opening quarter claimed its first victim.
Geordan Murphy was celebrating his recall by showing composure under the high ball and thrust in attack, but the same could not be said for fly-half O'Gara whose decision-making was poor.
A missed penalty offered O'Gara no respite but when Bowe set off on an electrifying break Ireland appeared destined to score.
The Ospreys winger glided effortlessly between two defenders and raced to Argentina's 22, picking out David Wallace in support.
Wallace had Rob Kearney on his outside shoulder but did not hear the call to pass, instead finding Ferris who knocked on with the line at his mercy.
O'Gara gifted him another attempt when he shoulder barged Mario Ledesma off a ruck and this time Fernandez was on target.
But the Lions outside-half was able to reply in kind a heartbeat later when Argentina were penalised for not releasing as Ireland pressed.
The Irish were suffering from some terrible handling in the backs but when Argentina were penalised at a line out O'Gara responded with three points.
The video referee was needed to rule out a 'try' by Martin Durand in the 55th minute following a poor clearance by Tomas O'Leary.
Ireland's discipline was crumbling, squandering strong field positions with two poor penalties.
It was O'Gara's turn to miss his second penalty in the 61st minute after O'Leary had ruined a rousing forward drive by taking the wrong option.
Brian O'Driscoll let Argentina off the hook with a poor pass and Ireland turned their attention to the drop-goal, which O'Gara managed at the third attempt.
He hit the crossbar with another penalty but the Pumas' fate was sealed with five minute to go when his sights were better adjusted and Ireland were finally able to breath easy.
Wallace was carried off and then Bowe crossed to put the result beyond doubt, collecting O'Gara's kick to seal the outcome.