Heading into the final set of fixtures it seemed like Argentina would have to pull a big rabbit out of their hat in order to qualify for the knockout stages. As it turns out, that rabbit’s name was Marcos Rojo as the defender slotted home a late winner to give the South Americans a narrow 2-1 victory over Nigeria that saw them progress through to the Round of 16.
With Croatia playing Iceland in the other game in Group D there was always going to be a great deal of uncertainty, with nobody being 100% sure as to who was going through until the final whistle had blown. Alas, many fans believed that this would be an absolute barnstormer of a game regardless, and the tempo was high in the early stages as the feeling out stage began between two nations who have faced off quite a few times over the years.
Following a tense first 10-15 minutes or so Ever Banega popped up with a tremendous ball over the top to Lionel Messi and after a frustrating first two games in Russia, the Barcelona legend controlled the ball brilliantly before slotting the ball home with a delightful finish. The media may be overhyping him in some ways, but when it comes to this goal, Messi was on top form.
Argentina rode their luck at times throughout the rest of the first half, although they certainly showed a level of swagger that they hadn’t up to this point. As the second half began, however, they would live to regret not making their lead more comfortable as a big Javier Mascherano error opened the door for Victor Moses to calmly equalise from the penalty spot.
Nigeria threatened at times but they couldn’t find the second goal that would make things comfortable, and in the end, Argentina got their reward after battering the Nigeria goal for the final half an hour.
Gabriel Mercado’s cross was poked home by Rojo to send the thousands of loyal Argentina fans into ecstasy, and courtesy of Croatia’s win over Iceland, they confirmed their place in the last 16.
Nigeria should be proud of what they were able to accomplish in Russia despite not progressing from the group, but now, the attention will turn back to Argentina and Lionel Messi. They’ll be preparing for a huge game against Group C winners France on Saturday night, and if they win that, there’s a potential clash against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on the horizon in the quarter-finals.
Nigeria: Uzoho (7), Balogun (6), Troost-Ekong (6), Omeruo (6), Moses (7), Ndidi (6.5), Mikel (7), Etebo (7), Idowu (6), Iheanacho (5.5), Musa (7), Ighalo (5), Simy (N/A), Iwobi (N/A)
Argentina: Armani (6), Mercado (5), Otamendi (5.5), Rojo (6.5), Tagliafico (5), Perez, Mascherano (5), Banega (6.5), Di Maria (5.5), Messi (7), Higuain (5.5), Mesa (N/A), Aguero (N/A), Pavon (6)
Referee: Cüneyt Çakir
Goals: Moses pen :: Messi, Rojo
Yellow Cards: Balogun, Mikel, Mascherano, Banega, Messi
Red Cards: N/A
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