NIGERIA 2-3 ARGENTINA
WEDNESDAY 25TH JUNE – PORTO ALEGRE
Two goals from Lionel Messi and a third from Marcos Rojo saw Argentina beat a spirited Nigeria side 3-2 in Porto Alegre. 21 year old Ahmed Musa scored twice to bring the Super Eagles level on two occasions, but with Bosnia-Herzegovina beating Iran elsewhere, the match was essentially a dead rubber with both sides advancing to the knockout round.
In keeping with the rest of the tournament so far, the match started at a lightning pace, with two goals in the opening five minutes. With just three minutes played, Javier Mascherano played a slide-rule through-ball between the Nigerian defenders to release Angel Di Maria down the left. The in-form Real Madrid man had his shot saved onto the post by Vincent Enyeama, but the ball ballooned back into the middle of the penalty area where Messi was only too happy to smash it into the roof of the net. However, the lead lasted barely 90 seconds. On a Nigeria counter-attack, Michel Babatunde streamed through the centre of the pitch before being brought down at the edge of the area. On his way to the floor, he managed to poke the ball through to Musa on the left, who cut inside onto his right foot and curled a powerful shot inside the far post.
The first half went on in pretty much the expected way – Argentina dominated possession of the ball but struggled to break down a resilient Nigerian defence. Babatunde, Musa and Emmanuel Emenike were dangerous on the counter attack but holding midfielders John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi were excellent in the centre of the park. An injury to Sergio Aguero saw an early introduction for Ezequiel Lavezzi, but it was Argentina forging the best opportunities.
Gonzalo Higuain hit the side netting after taking a Messi pass around the goalkeeper and Di Maria tested Enyeama from range, but little could be done about Messi’s second goal. Having already had a top corner-bound free kick tipped away by Enyeama, he had a second chance from outside the right hand side of the area. Stepping up with the weight of a nation’s hopes on his shoulders, he stroked the ball over the wall with his magical left foot, the ball dipping low inside the right-hand post. Seconds before half-time, it was the perfect time to score – with four goals already, Messi is in serious danger of making this his World Cup.
However, despite the fifteen-minute interval, Nigeria were back with another quick equaliser and it was the impressive Musa again. With an acre of space in between the Argentine centre-halves, he was able to glide through the gap in between and finish at the near post from the edge of the area, wrong-footing Sergio Romero in between the posts. But, yet again, there was a quick reply – Messi delivered a dangerous corner from the left which wasn’t dealt with, and Rojo was able to steer the ball in with his knee. The scrappiest goal of the game was to prove the decisive one.
Messi was withdrawn from the fray to rapturous applause with half an hour to play, having scored his 23rd goal in his last 23 games for his national side and his 42nd in total. Musa had a chance for his hat-trick but was denied by a superb last-ditch challenge from Pablo Zabaleta, before a team-mate’s shot broke the arm of the unfortunate Babatunde, who will miss the rest of the tournament. Di Maria and Mascherano had chances to make the game safe but the game fizzled out in the final minutes with both sides happy to progress to the next round. Nigeria will face a difficult first knockout game against in-form France, with Messi and co. likely to face Ecuador or Switzerland. They clearly are not without their faults, but with Messi in this sort of form, they can’t be ruled out as potential winners.
NIGERIA: Enyeama, Ambrose Emuobo, Oshaniwa, Mikel, Yobo, Omeruo, Odemwingie (Nwofor 80), Onazi, Emenike, Babatunde (Uchebo 66), Musa.
GOALS: Musa 4 & 47.
BOOKINGS: Omeruo 49, Oshaniwa 51.
ARGENTINA: Romero, Zabaleta, Rojo, Mascherano, Fernández, Garay, Gago, Messi (Alvarez 63), Agüero (Lavezzi 38), Higuaín, Di María.
GOALS: Messi 3 & 45. Rojo 50.
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