This World Cup has been thrilling in many ways. From late goals to substitutes making differences to the amount of goals being scored to bites taken out of Italian fullback’s shoulders (too soon?) it has all been wonderful. I’m sure this is even more than organizers could have hoped for. The third and final game in the group stage for Argentina and Nigeria continued on in this tradition as it involved two braces and 5 goals in total.
Hopefully those who were lucky enough to have tickets to this match got into their seats on time as there was plenty of action in the game’s first 5 minutes. Actually, it was a World Cup record setting amount of action as it was the first time in the history of the tournament in which each team scored in the first 5 minutes. It was none other than the Little Wizard who struck first for Argentina.
It all sprung from a dash down the left hand side by the world class Argentinean winger Angel Di Maria. Di Maria has had to live his national soccer life in the very large shadow cast by captain and talisman Lionel Messi. So much so that we sometimes forget how talented the Real Madrid winger is. He gave a demonstration of that talent on the first Argentinean goal (and all match long, for that matter). Di Maria entered the Nigerian box and his low show was partially stopped by the Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama. The shot was so powerful that it continued forward off of Enyeama’s hand straight onto the post. Fortune was with the Argentineans as the ball came back off the post and landed right in front of…you guessed it…Messi. He left footed his first-time shot from 12 yards in front of goal straight into the roof of the net. Nothing Enyeama could do to stop him. We were a mere 3 minutes into the game and it was 1-0 Argentina.
Instead of being intimidated by Messi or being overwhelmed by being one goal down so early the Nigerians played the game of what you can do I can do better. Right off the restart of play after the Messi goal then broke into the Argentinean end. Ahmed Musa found himself one-on-one versus fullback Pablo Zabaleta. Musa cut inside and sent a perfect shot curling past the outstretched diving hands of Sergio Romero and tucked just inside the far post. 4 minutes in and the game was tied 1-1. Wow!
Di Maria continued to make his mark on the game as a playmaker in the 25th minute when he set up Messi for a chance only to see his sliding chance eke wide of the net and then his own shot from 35 yards out that was headed to the bottom corner of the net when Enyeama dove and managed to get a hand to it.
As the goals were scored in the early moments of the game so it seems fitting that Messi’s second would be in added on time in the 1st. A minute into the added on time Nigeria made a crucial mistake of ceding a free kick from a couple yards outside their own penalty box. Up stood Messi. He had already taken one earlier from a little further out to have it stopped by Enyeama. That was for measure this one was for glory. He put it up and over the Nigerian wall and into the top of the unguarded side of the net. All Enyeama could do was pick the ball out of the back of the net. 2-1 Argentina.
On the other side of the half time stoppage again it did not take long for Nigeria to respond. And like he found it to be a challenge from Messi Musa scored his second goal. This time he ran on through the middle to a nice through ball and managed to wrong foot the Argentinean keeper to knot the game up 2-2 in the 47th minute.
Just 3 minutes later Argentina snuffed out any Nigerian thought to winning the contest as they scored the game’s fifth and final goal in the 50th minute. It was not the prettiest of goals of the World Cup or even this match for that matter, but all that counts is that it went in. A corner was taken by substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi and swung in front of the Nigerian net. The ball deflected off and Argentinean player’s head slightly then off defender Marco Rojo’s knee into the net. It was his first goal for his country and the winning one in this game. 3-2 Argentina thanks to Lionel Messi.
Argentinean coach Alejandro Sabella wisely (why risk him to injury?) took Messi out of the game in the 63rd minute having Ricardo Alvarez come on in his place. He knew the game was in hand at this point and wanted to make sure his most important player was fit for the upcoming elimination portion of the tournament.
Nigeria played well and should be proud of themselves, but they ended up succumbing to the magic that is Messi. Still the two sides from Group F are going through to the round of 16. Nigeria will go on to play France on June 30th while Argentina will play Switzerland on July 1st.
-Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
-Goals: 3rd minute: Argentina – Lionel Messi
4th minute: Nigeria – Ahmed Musa
45th + 1 minute: Argentina – Lionel Messi
47th minute: Nigeria – Ahmed Musa
50th minute: Argentina – Marco Rojo
-Shots on Goal: Argentina – 13
Nigeria – 7
-Corners: Argentina – 12
Nigeria – 4
-Man of the Match: Lionel Messi – Argentina
-Final Score: Argentina – 3
Nigeria – 2