Argentina joined Saturday’s earlier winners Korea Republic on three points in Group B with a 1-0 victory over Nigeria at Johannesburg’s packed Ellis Park. Gabriel Heinze scored the game’s only goal with a diving header from a corner in just the sixth minute, although the two-time FIFA World Cup™ winners could have added more if not for the heroics of Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and their own wasteful finishing.
As early as the fourth minute, FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi burst through the Super Eagles’ defence and set up Gonzalo Higuain in front of goal, but the Real Madrid man blazed wide of the target. Two minutes later Messi tested Enyeama from 20 yards out, but the Israel-based goalkeeper saved well with a dive to his right. However, from the resulting corner, Heinze ran forward and found himself all alone directly on the penalty spot, and he made no mistake with the chance. The early goal sent coach Diego Maradona into raptures on the sideline, and surely he must have thought there was more to come.
Messi was a constant thorn in the side of the Nigeria defence, and in the 18th minute he cut inside and curled a left-footed shot towards goal from 25 yards out. But Enyeama was up to the task with a fine save at his post. Three minutes later, the Albiceleste threatened again but Higuain blasted his point-blank shot right into the goalkeeper. Enyeama was the Nigerian hero another time shortly after, denying Messi with his fingertips when it seemed like his curling shot would sneak in.
The introduction of Obafemi Martins early in the second period sparked Nigeria into life. The Wolfsburg forward showed his pace on the hour to latch onto a through-ball and play in Sani Kaita but he blasted over from 25 yards out. As the match opened up, Argentina found more room in the attacking third. In the 65th minute, they counter-attacked quickly to find themselves four-on-two and bearing down on the Nigeria defence. Carlos Tevez slid the ball dangerously into the middle, Angel Di Maria let the ball carry on to Messi, but the Barcelona superstar hit his shot agonisingly wide. Messi then set up Higuain for another opening, but Enyeama was again the victor in that head-to-head duel.
In the 71st minute, Nigeria left-back Taye Taiwo blasted a shot just wide of the post from the edge of the area, injuring himself in the process. His replacement, Kalu Uche, had the best chance of the night for the Super Eagles in the 83rd minute, but he failed to keep down an effort from 12 yards out despite being left unmarked. Nigeria next face Greece on 17 June in Manguang/Bloemfontein, while Argentina and Korea Republic will battle it out for the top of the group at Johannesburg’s Soccer City on the same day.