Argentina secured top spot in Group F and preserved their unblemished record at Brazil 2014 with a 3-2 win over Nigeria illuminated by braces for Lionel Messi and Ahmed Musa. Alejandro Sabella’s side will be joined in the Round of 16 by the Super Eagles, who contributed greatly to this enthralling match and progress due to Iran’s defeat to already-eliminated Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Even in a World Cup packed full of thrilling games, this was one of the best yet, and the tone was set as early as the third minute. That was when Messi opened the scoring in some style, crashing a first-time shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards after Vincent Enyeama had tipped Angel Di Maria’s initial effort on to the post.
Nigeria, though, weren’t content to allow Argentina’s captain to again hog the headlines, and they drew level with the next attack of the game. The impressive Ahmed Musa was the player responsible, exploiting a one-on-one with Pablo Zabaleta to cut inside from the left and curl an inch-perfect right-foot shot just inside the far post.
It was a terrific goal from a player who would continue to cause problems, although it was Argentina who carved out the better of the game’s opportunities.
Di Maria was again prominent, and on 25 minutes he measured an inviting low pass across goal that Messi – sliding in – missed out on converting by a matter of inches. Soon after, the Real Madrid winger went directly for goal, unleashing a 35-yard drive that was flying into the bottom corner until Enyeama got across to tip it wide.
It wasn’t long, though, before Messi again took centre stage. A minute into first-half injury time, and having forced a brilliant save from the keeper with an earlier free-kick, he re-established La Albiceleste’s lead from an almost-identical position. This time, there was no chance for Enyeama, with the Barcelona star curling a left-foot shot from 25 yards that cleared the wall and dropped just inside the right-hand post.
But once again, Nigeria wasted little time in responding to Messi’s brilliance. Just a couple of minutes into the second half, Musa emulated the Argentina skipper by completing a double of his own, racing through and wrong-footing Sergio Romero with a low shot into the bottom-left corner.
Argentina would not be a denied a third straight win, though, and they secured the points just three minutes later. It was the scrappiest of all five goals, with Marcos Rojo bundling a corner home with his knee, but that didn’t matter to the Albiceleste fans or to the scorer, who had never before found the target for his national team.
1 ROMERO (GK)
7 DI MARIA
9 HIGUAIN (-90′)
10 MESSI (C) (-63′)
17 F. FERNANDEZ
12 ORION (GK)
21 ANDUJAR (GK)
6 BIGLIA (+90′)
11 M. RODRIGUEZ
13 A. FERNANDEZ
19 ALVAREZ (+63′)
22 LAVEZZI (+38′)
SABELLA Alejandro (ARG)