Argentina head into their final group match of the World Cup in disarray. After a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in their last match, qualification hangs on by a thread, and only a win against Nigeria will give Jorge Sampaoli’s men any hope of reaching the round of 16.
Argentina have qualified for the round of 16 in the World Cup after a spectacular finish from Marcos Rojo five minutes from time gave Jorge Sampaoli’s men the three points they needed to qualify.
In an enthralling game, Argentina stepped up the gears in the first half. Lionel Messi was at his best and proved to be the thorn in the side for the Nigerian defence. The tricky forward brought his teammates into the game, but it was his own finish that kick-started it all. After a promising Nigeria start, Ever Banega played a long ball over the top, Lionel Messi took the ball away from the Nigerian defender with his deft first touch, and then he fired past Francis Uzoho to open the scoring.
Argentina were on top in the first period. Angel Di Maria won his side a free-kick in a dangerous area when he countered forward and was brought down on the edge of the area. From the resulting free-kick, Barca star Messi curled the ball round to Uzoho’s right and the young shot-stopper did excellently to tip the effort just around the post.
After the break, the game turned on its head — when Javier Mascherano was caught grappling with the Nigerian attackers, the referee gave a penalty against the Argentines. Victor Moses stepped up and calmly slotted the ball past debutant Franco Armani to equalise.
With the teams tied at 1-1, Argentina were set to lose out to Nigeria for the runner-up spot. Sampaoli sent on Sergio Aguero and Cristian Pavon, who introduced some pace and energy into the tiring Argentina side.
Odion Ighalo will rue his missed chances to give Nigeria the lead. When Marcos Rojo headed the ball onto his own arm, the ball looped up and Ighalo had time and space to compose himself before his shot but the Watford striker fired wide. The referee waved away appeals for a handball. Later in the game, the striker then fluffed his lines when he went one-on-one.
Gonzalo Higuain seemed to have wasted Argentina’s golden opportunity when he darted unmarked into the box and blasted the ball over the bar just yards out.
However, with five minutes to go, Rojo drifted free in the area and side-footed a cross on the volley past youngster Uzoho to spark mass celebrations.
It may not have been a perfect group stage from Argentina, but they have secured their place in the round of 16 and, with an on-form Messi, who knows how far they can go.
Five takeaways from Nigeria vs Argentina
If Messi is on form, Argentina can beat anyone
We saw in the first half how destructive Messi can be and if he can perform against Spain, Argentina can beat anyone.
Nigeria are a team for the future
Nigeria has a young squad full of talent: Musa, Moses, Uzoho, the list goes on. The coach has stated that this is a squad for 2020/2022 and it seems they could do well during the next World Cup.
Expect the unexpected
Argentina have a squad full of stars, yet even their frightening front line could not finish the game off for the national team. A volley from centre-half Marcos Rojo won them the game.
Argentina’s stars are the lower profile players
Argentina have Sergio Aguero, Higuain, Messi, Dybala, Di Maria, yet none of these have had their best tournament this time around — their star performers in this game were Banega, Rojo and Tagliafico.
Uzoho will be a wanted man this summer
After three solid performances at this World Cup, the 19-year-old Nigerian goalkeeper is destined to be a wanted man. The youngster proved his worth this World Cup and didn’t seem worried by the pressure of the situation. One to watch for the future.