It wasn’t pretty, it was very nervy and it took an unlikely late hero but Argentina got the win needed over Nigeria to book a place in the last 16 of the World Cup. The opening 45 minutes were certainly the best Argentina have produced in Russia and while the second half display almost threw it all away, La Albiceleste are still alive.
Franco Armani – 7
Finally got his chance to shine and while not having a great deal to do, Franco Armani did more than enough to suggest the vast majority were right to think the River Plate keeper was worthy of the number one. Helpless to stop Victor Moses’ penalty, an excellent stop to deny Odion Ighalo when the score was level proved absolutely vital.
Gabriel Mercado – 6
Troubled at times defensively by the pace of Nigeria’s attack but a hard working shift as ever by Gabriel Mercado was instrumental. The Sevilla defender burst forward to deliver the cross that saw Marcos Rojo volley the winner.
Nicolás Otamendi – 6
Much improved from the horror show against Croatia, Nicolás Otamendi was something like the powerful central defensive presence that Argentina have come to rely on. Confident as ever dealing with crosses, Nigeria’s pace could have been a problem but never really troubled Otamendi.
Marcos Rojo – 7
At times looking like the defensive liability that many fear he is, Marcos Rojo arrived in the box to volley the dramatic winner and as such more than earned his place in the side. A dangerous kung-fu style clearance in the first half and a clumsy header onto his own arm in the second had Nigeria claiming for two further penalties but thankfully neither were given. Rojo remains an area of weakness but his goal was absolutely priceless.
Nicolás Tagliafico – 6
An excellent first half, Nicolás Tagliafico was firm in the tackle and always looking to burst forward to join the attack. The Nigeria equaliser saw Argentina completely lose their way and as such the Ajax defender lost any influence on the game.
Enzo Pérez – 6
A little unfortunate to be hooked off after Argentina went behind as Enzo Pérez’s absence saw Argentina’s midfield all but disappear. During the first half the River Plate veteran was effective in his passing, a solid partner to Javier Mascherano and a useful link to Lionel Messi.
Javier Mascherano – 4
The image of Javier Mascherano dropping in blood and celebrating an Argentina victory will perhaps live longer in the memory than anything else but the truth is that El Jefecito endured a terrible evening. His clumsy and needless defending at the corner gifted Nigeria a penalty and it proved the turning point. When it turned into battle, Mascherano could prove some value but during the first half when Argentina were trying to create, the number five was more of a hindrance to the idea of possession.
Ever Banega – 8
Precisely what Argentina needed, Ever Banega delivered. The need for someone who could pick a pass, link play and importantly get Lionel Messi the ball further up the field was vital and during the first 45 minutes, Banega was instrumental. The Sevilla schemer’s accurate lofted pass to childhood friend Messi broke the deadlock and another cutting pass released Di María soon after. As Nigeria closed the spaces and Argentina became more disjointed after the equaliser, Banega’s influence waned but he has shown his worth going forward.
Angel Di María – 5
Aside from a couple of decent bursts during the first half, one which was halted by Leon Balogun when bearing down on goal, Angel Di María endured another frustrating evening in an Argentina shirt. Poor decision making and wasteful in possession, El Fideo’s place rarely seems to come under threat.
Lionel Messi – 8
Swarmed by Iceland, cut out by Croatia, Nigeria failed to get to grips with Lionel Messi and the Argentina captain finally made his desired impact at the World Cup. A goal of supreme quality opened the scoring, a free-kick came back off the post but Messi was at the heart of everything as Argentina’a captain and leader.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 5
Preferred to Sergio Agüero for the Nigeria clash, Gonzalo Higuaín had a tremendous opportunity to solidify his place as Argentina’s number nine. Hardworking and some neat touches in build-up aside, Pipita didn’t do that. Not quite reaching Lionel Messi’s through-ball in the first half perhaps was excusable but his wild finish from around the penalty spot with the scores 1-1 could have proved costly.
Cristian Pavón – 6
An injection of energy that Cristian Pavón brings is always clear and his pace is a dangerous weapon when Argentina counter but on the couple of occasions the Boca youngster got away, support was lacking.
Replaced Angel Di María late on but failed to impress in his brief cameo.
No time for Sergio Agüero to do anything but will hoping that he can regain his starting spot for the last 16 clash with France.