The Argentine skipper was convincing in his performance against the Super Eagles.
In what can only be termed as a miracle at the Rostov-on-Don, Argentina scripted a sensational 2-1 win over Nigeria to make it to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup. The South Americans came into this game knowing that only a win, aided by Croatia inflicting defeat or at least a draw on Iceland would suffice. The stage was set for Lionel Messi to silence his critics and buoy did he deliver.
It was right in the 86th minute when Marcos Rojo found himself unmarked in the Nigerian box and slotted home a beautiful cross from Gabriel Mercado. They had done it, they had pulled off one of the World Cup’s greatest ever escapes and as always, Messi was at the heart of it.
Watch: Nigeria 1-2 Argentina highlights
Here are five things that we learnt from the game.
5. Banega has to start every game
For some inexplicable reason, Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli decided to bench Ever Banega in both the matches against Croatia and Iceland. The former Chile boss faced a lot of criticism for this and he finally started the Sevilla midfielder and the result was there for all to see. The 29-year-old dictated the tempo of the game, especially in the first half and also setup Messi’s opening goal with a sublime pass.
He also played a number of piercing passes that split open the Nigerian defense, but none of his compatriots could finish them off. With Banega’s performance, it is now evident that if the Albiceleste wish to go deep into the competition, he has to feature regularly in the starting lineup.
4. Messi is unstoppable when he enjoys his football
Messi opened Argentina’s account against Nigeria
According to many, Messi is the greatest player of all-time and following Tuesday night’s performance, it will be hard to argue with that. He seemed uninterested and lethargic in the first two games, but the Barcelona forward was scintillating in his role as a false #10 against Nigeria.
He not only took his chance brilliantly, but also repeatedly dropped deep and wide to provide space for others. Howeever, his lack of involvement in the box, especially in the second half could have been a major issue had Rojo not popped up suddenly at the right time. A Mundial without Messi never seemed to be a joyous proposition anyway.
3. Mascherano is finished at the top level
Javier Mascherano is a cult figure when it comes to Argentinian football, but he is well past his prime now. He no longer has the presence or the legs that are needed to excel at the highest level and that fact was show once again.
The former Liverpool player was caught on the ball and out of position, over and over again. Sampaoli has to find a substitute for his position or against better opposition, they could be severely punished.
2. Nigeria can take a lot of pride from their performance
When the group was drawn, most people expected Argentina and Croatia to qualify easily, but the Nigerians have certainly made a case for themselves. They could have qualified, if not for the late goal that they so unfortunately succumbed to. The likes of Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses can take a lot of heart from their performances against some of the best players in the world and build on it for the next edition of the tournament.
1. Argentina are unlikely to go far with this team
The two-time World Cup winners may have scraped through the group, but sterner tests lie ahead. They will be facing France in the Round of 16, having a squad that is not at all capable of breaking the high press or countering pace.
Their key players all have to produce another miracle to go past Les Bleus and given their performances in the group stage, its unlikely that Lady Luck will favour them again.