Italy fought its way to a 2-1 victory over defending champion Argentina here today in a second-round match in the World Cup soccer tournament.

Marco Tardelli gave Italy a 1-0 lead as he converted from in close on a give-and-go play with Giancarlo Antognoni in the 56th minute of play. The goal opened up what had been a defensive struggle that saw Romanian referee Nicolae Rainea hand out five yellow warning cards before expelling Argentine defender Americo Gallego late in the game.

Argentina now faces an extremely difficult task to reach the semifinals. The 1978 champions need a victory over three-time champion Brazil and a Brazilian victory over Italy in order to have a chance of advancing on goal difference from Group C.

Later tonight in Madrid, England and West Germany severely tested the patience of a crowd of 75,000 at Bernabeu stadium as they played to a 0-0 tie.

The English team appeared a bit stronger at the outset, and the Germans held the territorial advantage in the last 45 minutes, but neither team could mount any kind of sustained attack.

The result greatly boosted host Spain's chances of advancing from Group B to the semifinals. Spain, which meets West Germany Friday, needs only one victory and a tie to reach the final four.

One of the key matchups in the Argentina-Italy game was between Argentine star Diego Maradona and Claudio Gentile, who was assigned to follow Maradona all over the field.

Gentile was one of the players warned for excessive roughness, and except for one or two moments, Maradona was comparatively ineffective.

After the game, Argentine Coach Cesar Luis Menotti accused the Italians of trying to wreck the game with their defensive tactics and suggested that the Italian defender should have been ejected by the referee.

"There are laws of the game," Menotti said, "and these have to be respected. Law 512 says that if a player repeatedly fouls an opponent he should be warned or sent off the field. Well, there were at least 20 fouls against Maradona, so I guess that's your answer."

Italy has been accused of defensive soccer before, but today it was effective in launching several good counterattacks, particularly in the second half.

The first half ended with the 40,000 or so fans who packed the tiny Sarria stadium here whistling and jeering the teams' passive play. Although the half had started on a promising note, with several quick thrusts by both sides, it soon developed into an ill-tempered defensive struggle.

The only good scoring chance in the first half came in the eighth minute when Argentina's Ramon Diaz took a pass from Maradona on the right side and took a hard shot that forced 40-year-old goalkeeper Dino Zoff to punch the ball over the net in desperation.

Seven minutes into the second half, Ubaldo Fillol, Zoff's counterpart, was forced to make a spectacular save on a shot by Tardelli, as the Italians started to open up the game.

Four minutes later, Tardelli's goal got things started, and Argentina quickly substituted the increasingly ineffective Diaz and Mario Kempes, the star of the 1978 World Cup, for Gabriel Calderon and Daniel Valencia. This enlivened the Argentine attack, and Zoff was forced to make saves in the 59th and 61st minute.

Two minutes later, Maradona hooked a left-footed free kick around the wall of Italian defenders only to have it bounce off the goal post.

Argentina kept up the pressure for several minutes before Italy launched another of its counterattacks from deep in its territory. Fillol charged out and made a spectacular save on Paolo Rossi, but the ball squirted loose and Antonio Cabrini was able to take advantage of the confusion to make it 2-0.

The game continued to heat up as fouls accumulated and both goalkeepers were forced to make several saves. Then, with seven minutes left, Argentine captain Daniel Passarella put a free kick into the net as the Italian defense was wasting time setting up a wall.

In the England-West Germany game, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge provided the only real excitement of the second half when he sent a tremendous, bending 25-yard drive crashing off the crossbar.

Tonight's game started with 20 minutes of tentative but well-played soccer in which England had the better of things. Paul Mariner and Ray Wilkins combined on a couple of occasions to put pressure on Toni Schumacher but the lanky West German was able to stretch hard to make the saves.

In the 22nd minute, Paul Breitner sprinted down the right side, faked his way around a defender and sent a precise crossing pass in front of the goal that Rummenigge just missed with.