Argentina and Lionel Messi have their place at the 2018 World Cup on the line when they face familiar foes Nigeria in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
A 1-1 draw against Iceland after Messi was thwarted from the penalty spot, followed by a chastening 3-0 reverse to Croatia, means only a win will do for La Albiceleste and their under-fire head coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Thankfully for Messi and his team-mates, that is precisely what tends to happen when Argentina face Nigeria.
Remarkably, this is the fifth time the sides have been placed together at the group stage since 1994.
Although Nigeria can draw confidence from dispatching Iceland 2-0 last time out and a 4-2 friendly victory over a Messi-less Argentina last November, their World Cup history in this fixture does not make for encouraging reading.
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) June 26, 2018
USA 1994 – Nigeria 1 Argentina 2
Samson Siasia beat the Argentina offside trap to break the deadlock after eight minutes but the long-haired hero of the piece proved to be Claudio Caniggia.
He slammed into the net after Gabriel Batistuta’s free-kick was parried and Argentina were ahead within half an hour when Diego Maradona threaded a cute free-kick into the left channel for Caniggia to curl home a fine second.
However, it was Maradona who would sensationally dominate the post-match headlines. A failed drugs test meant his World Cup ended in disgrace and one of the greatest international careers of all time came to an abrupt end.
Japan/South Korea 2002 – Nigeria 0 Argentina 1
Argentina went into the 2002 World Cup with fitness questions surrounding a clutch of senior players but two of them combined in Ibaraki to score the only goal of the game – Batistuta expertly guiding in Juan Sebastian Veron’s left-wing corner at the back post.
That was as good as it got for Argentina, however, as a 1-0 loss to England and a 1-1 draw against Sweden left them eliminated along with Nigeria at the end of the group stage – standings that represent a dream scenario this time around for Iceland supporters.
South Africa 2010 – Nigeria 0 Argentina 1
It turned out this fixture had not quite seen the last of Maradona, as he returned in the unlikely guise of Argentina head coach for the 2010 World Cup.
Gabriel Heinze powered home a corner when left unmarked to settle a forgettable contest. Nigeria would finish bottom of the group with a solitary point, while Argentina and their boisterous rookie boss were eventually thumped 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals.
Brazil 2014 – Nigeria 2 Argentina 3
Ahmed Musa’s brilliant brace against Iceland means the Nigeria winger is in prime form to reprise his role from this mini-classic that decided top spot in the group four years ago.
Twice Musa found assured finishes in Porto Alegre, cancelling out Messi goals on each occasion – the little maestro’s second a sumptuous free-kick.
Marcos Rojo was the unlikely match-winner from a 50th minute corner and Argentina would progress all the way to the final, where Germany pipped them 1-0 in extra-time.
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