Lionel Messi produced his best performance of the World Cup to help Argentina to a third straight victory and top Group F. Two first half Messi strikes and a Marcos Rojo goal after the break gave La Albiceleste a 3-2 win over a spirited Nigeria side. An injury to Sergio Agüero was the downside but Alejandro Sabella will have been pleased to see a far more threatening performance even if the defence looked more unstable. A balance will need to found as Argentina progress in the tournament.
After the opening two matches where Argentina had failed to live up to pre-tournament expectation despite winning both games, Alejandro Sabella opted to name the same starting eleven as against Iran. Sticking with the formation and the players in an effort to grow into the tournament and gel a little more was no doubt in his mind, as was guaranteeing top spot in the group.
It took just two minutes for Lionel Messi to continue his scoring streak as he was able to smash in a rebound following Ángel Di María’s shot that came back off the post. Given the criticism that Argentina received after the Iran match, such an early goal was greeted by exuberant celebrations.
However, the lead lasted just a minute, as Nigeria exposed the defensive frailties of Sabella’s side. Breaking quickly, Ahmed Musa was left in space and he expertly cut inside Pablo Zabaleta before curling a fine finish past Sergio Romero.
Nigeria’s pace was always a danger to Argentina but La Albiceleste were looking more dangerous than in their previous matches perhaps afforded a little more time and space by the Nigerian defence than the tight eleven-man Iranian backline.
In first half stoppage time, Messi once again stepped up to give Argentina the lead. His precisely struck free kick left Vincent Enyeama as a spectator and gave Messi his fourth goal of the tournament already.
Just minutes into the second half, Nigeria levelled the match and once Musa was the architect, aided by some dreadful Argentine defending. A simple one-two with Emmanuel Emenike allowed Musa to waltz through the heart of the defence and finish past Romero for a second time.
This time it was Argentina’s turn to provide an immediate riposte as Marcos Rojo managed to divert a corner into the Nigerian net with his knee and restore the lead.
An exciting finale saw chances at either end, even after the withdrawal of Messi with 20 minutes remaining but the score remained the same.
The result and Bosnia’s victory over Iran meant that Nigeria followed Argentina through but both sides will need to tighten up going forward.
Sabella will have been pleased to see his side provide more of an attacking threat but will be worried that this seemed to come at the expense of his defence doing their job. Lionel Messi is getting better with every game and is transforming into the leader that the whole nation wants and needs him to be.
The only potential bad news was the first half injury to Sergio Agüero. Ezequiel Lavezzi replaced him and showed his value to the side but it would be a blow to Argentina if they were to lose Kun for the remainder of the tournament.