LIVE - Nigeria 1, Argentina 1: Match settles down after hectic start

June 25, 12:26 PM

If only it could have maintained the madness of the first four minutes.

In truth, it was never going to happen. We were spoiled with two goals in the opening minutes of the match, and things have now settled into the rhythm that was largely expected prior to the opening whistle.

Argentina have dictated the play since the goals, their slick, short passing threatening to cut open the Nigerian defense on a couple of occasions, while the African side have not looked particularly dangerous on the break as of yet.

One thing seems certain: there are more goals to come in this match.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 2:24 PM

Nigeria 2, Argentina 3: Messi, Musa score twice as both teams qualify for knockout stage

June 25, 2:24 PM

Nigeria loses to Argentina, but the result in the other Group F match means they’re both through to the next round. As such, it was a goal-laden game with a shared Messi and Musa brace that felt more like a celebration of what has been an incredible group stage in this World Cup.

Nigeria may rue not pressing a sometimes vulnerable Argentina more in order to avoid France in the round of 16, but Vincent Enyeama’s performance in goal should encourage Stephen Keshi to spend the time to work on the back four, who will face a very similar attack in the next round.

Goals

GOAL! Lionel Messi (Argentina) 3rd min. Who else? Messi notches his third goal in three matches after Di Maria releases a shot which hits the post, comes off the back of Enyeama, and then into the path of the one player Nigeria would have rather it didn’t. Messi hits it into the roof of the net, and gain an early lead against Stephen Keshi’s side.

GOAL! Ahmed Musa (Nigeria) 4th min. Literally less than a minute later (30 seconds?), Musa countered after another near chance for Argentina, running in a straight line along the left flank and with only one striker in the box alongside him. Rather than cross however, Musa lashed in a stunner. An absolute stunner, laser into the far corner of the net. 1-1. This. World. Cup.

GOAL! Lionel Messi (Argentina) 45 + 1 min. After having a free kick saved by Vincent Enyeama in full stretch, a more centrally taken FK at a further distance gave Messi another opportunity to score at the end of the first half. He took it, and this time Enyeama didn’t even bother to leap. A gorgeous free kick, and Messi’s fourth goal in three games. The 1986 narrative looms large.

GOAL! Ahmed Musa (Nigeria) 47th min. A stunning lapse in the Argentine defense sees a an enormous gap open up to allow Emenike to play to Musa and release him free on goal. Musa’s patience pays off and he sends a shot to the left of Romero, and Nigeria were level! For a whole three minutes!

GOAL! Marcus Rojo (Argentina) 50th min. A looping corner kick from Messi dropped off the head of Garay and onto the knee of Rojo with space, and he quickly put Argentina back in front. The first player not named Messi to score for the Argentines. Nigeria will rue their marking on that set-piece going into the next round.

Man of the Match - Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi has scored four goals in three games for Argentina, and is tied for top scorer in the tournament so far with Brazil’s Neymar Jr. Not only that, but it was his corner delivery into the box which allowed Marcus Rojo to get the winner and all three points in Group F. He was also yet again the difference for his side, though nervous Argentina fans will be buoyed by a much better performance on the part of Higuain, Di Maria, and Aguero substitute Lavezzi. The 1986 Maradona comparisons are already surfacing.

The Controversy

Messi substituted at the 63rd minute. Clearly a tactical choice. Only two goals? Nonsense. We expect more! What is wrong with you, Messi?

And Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama laughing and joking at one point with Messi after a saved chance? Human warmth on the field of play? Why didn’t Messi punch/bite/maul him?

What did Argentina do to win?

Cynics will point to a less diligent Nigerian defense for Argentina’s attacking improvement, but there were signs that Argentina have improved since their difficult match against Iran (who incidentally were comfortably beaten by Bosnia).

For one, Alejandro Sabella seemed to ask for a little more narrow movement from Argentina on the wings, pushing a little closer to the edges of the 18, which ensured a little more danger in sending crosses to either side of the area. They caused enough confusion in the Nigerian box for their opener, and Messi found the rebound well. Without Vincent Enyeama in goal, the scoreline would have been worse for Nigeria.

The Takeaway

A great match with the intensity diminished a bit by Bosnia beating Iran and allowing Nigeria to go through no matter the result. Argentina however will be pleased with path to the semis that will likely go through Switzerland/Ecuador to start, likely followed by either Belgium, the US or Ghana. Nigeria meanwhile will have to find a way to get past France in the round of 16.

The 1,000 Words

Stray Thoughts

That wrist injury to Michel Babatunde from Onazi’s blistering shot was mad gross. You can find it here if that’s your thing.

Vincent Enyeama was outstanding, though he might be getting a little tired of the exposure from the Nigerian forever shuffling back line.

Ahmed Musa was one decent chance away from becoming the first player from CAF to score a World Cup hattrick, and the first player ever to score a hattrick against Argentina. Then Zabaleta put in a gorgeous tackle.

Angel Di Maria is due to score in this tournament. Really came into his own in this match and had a few great shots parried away.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 1:53 PM

FINAL - Nigeria 2, Argentina 3: Messi, Musa score twice as both teams qualify for knockout stage

June 25, 1:53 PM

If you're looking for impressive feats from defenders, this probably isn't the match (or tournament) for you.

If you enjoy goals, though...

Argentina and Nigeria offered plenty of offense in Porto Alegre today, with the South American side emerging on the right end of a 3-2 scoreline. 

Lionel Messi scored twice, Ahmed Musa responded each time, but a first ever international goal from left-back Marcos Rojo in the 50th minute was enough to propel the Albiceleste to victory and top spot in Group F.

Despite the loss, the Super Eagles still qualify for the knockout stages in second place by virtue of Iran's loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the group's other fixture today.

The highlight of the contest was undoubtedly Messi's second goal of the day, a perfect free kick that left goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama absolutely stranded with no hope of making a save.

The Nigerian shot-stopper was arguably the Man of the Match (Messi gets his own, untouchable category), making 10 saves as Argentina attacked in waves. That should tell you just how perfect the free kick really was.

Alejandro Sabella will be concerned with the less-than-inspiring performance from his defense, which continues to be the one aspect of the team that has some questioning their championship credentials.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 1:37 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 2, Argentina 3: Michael Babatunde leaves game with suspected broken wrist

June 25, 1:37 PM

Nigerian midfielder Michael Babatunde, so impressive in the Super Eagles' victory over Bosnia last week, may have seen his World Cup come to an end.

Babatunde was on the receiving end of a powerful shot from teammate Ogenyi Onazi, and his wrist took the full force of the strike. 

Video evidence seems to suggest that Babatunde suffered a broken wrist on the play.

Warning: The video is not for the faint of heart.

You can see the incident here.

His arm was immediately wrapped by team trainers, and he was substituted after leaving the pitch on a stretcher.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 1:28 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 2, Argentina 3: No hat-trick for Messi as he is substituted in 63rd minute

June 25, 1:28 PM

Lionel Messi will not complete his hat-trick today, as he has been taken off by manager Alejandro Sabella.

And why not? There's no need to have your best player - and arguably the best in the world - suffer an injury in a game that seems to be somewhat in control. Especially considering that a draw will do to secure top spot in the group.

Two goals is more than enough for one day's work. 

Vincent Enyeama can breathe easy knowing that he will not have to deal with Messi for the rest of the day.

The Argentine captain was replaced by Ricky Alvarez.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 1:16 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 2, Argentina 3: First international goal for Rojo puts Argentina right back on top

June 25, 1:16 PM

Goals for everyone! And in such quick succession, too.

Defender Marcos Rojo has put Argentina back on top just minutes after Nigeria equalized, getting the final touch on a corner kick that was allowed to get all the way through to the center of the penalty area, ultimately deflecting the ball in with his knee for his first ever international goal.

The marking left more than a bit to be desired.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 1:12 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 2, Argentina 2: Anything Messi can do, Musa can do better

June 25, 1:12 PM

Ahmed Musa has equalized for Nigeria, responding to Lionel Messi's goal for the second time today to knot the score at two apiece.

Lionel Messi we expected. But Ahmed Musa, not so much.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 12:58 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 1, Argentina 2: Brace from Messi has Albiceleste ahead at the interval

June 25, 12:58 PM

Lionel Messi, man. He’s simply too good. And that’s the best way to describe it.

Argentina needed an injury time winner from Messi to secure a panicky 1-0 victory over Iran in their previous match.

The star forward didn’t wait nearly that long today in Porto Alegre.

Messi opened the scoring in just the third minute against Nigeria, smashing a rebound into the top of the net after an initial shot from Angel Di Maria bounced off both the keeper and post before popping out nicely to the star attacker.

Nigeria looked like they could be in trouble.

The African side have struggled to generate chances in this tournament, but they too were able to find the net early. With the pro-Argentine crowd still celebrating, Ahmed Musa came right back down the field and curled a perfect shot beyond Sergio Romero.

There must be something in the air in Porto Alegre. According to the CBC broadcast, it was the first time in the history of the World Cup that both teams had scored in the opening five minutes of a match.

Argentina dictated the pace of the game after the early flurry, testing Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama multiple times from long range, but each time finding the shot-stopper equal to the task.

But just before the halftime whistle, he was beaten again. The task, a Messi free kick, was simply too much of an ask.

One instinctual finish and one moment of magic from the diminutive No. 10 have the South American side heading into the interval with a lead.

Manager Alejandro Sabella will be concerned over an apparent injury to striker Sergio Aguero, who left the match in the 37th minute. He was able to leave the pitch without any assistance, which was encouraging.

First half, by the numbers

NigeriaArgentina
3 (2)Shots (On Goal)10 (7)
0Corner Kicks6
0Offsides0
9Fouls3
37 %Possession63 %

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 12:53 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 1, Argentina 2: Messi with brilliant free-kick to put Argentina ahead just before the half

June 25, 12:53 PM

Lionel Messi is just too good.

The Argentine superstar scored his second goal of the half (fourth of the tournament and tenth in his last eight games) with a perfect free kick in injury time that left Vincent Enyeama looking utterly helpless.

The look on the poor goalkeeper's face tells you the whole story. He never had a chance.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 12:42 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 1, Argentina 1: Aguero leaves game injured, replaced by Lavezzi

June 25, 12:42 PM

This is not a good sight for Argentinian fans.

Striker Sergio Aguero, who endured an injury-laden spell with Manchester City this past season, has come off with an apparent injury just 37 minutes into the contest.

He was not limping or favoring any part of his body in particular, so we will have to wait and see what the ailment is that forced him to be substituted.

Argentina brought on Ezequiel Lavezzi in his stead.

Quite the luxury to have that kind of replacement waiting on the bench.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 12:09 PM

LIVE - Nigeria 1, Argentina 1: Messi scores in 3rd minute, Musa responds just seconds later (GIF)

June 25, 12:09 PM

Well, that was quick.

Nigeria's unblemished defensive record was broken in just the third minute of the match, with Lionel Messi pouncing on a rebound from an Angel Di Maria shot that bounced off the goalkeeper and the post.

The goal was the third for the Barcelona star in as many matches at the tournament.

It could have all gotten out of control rather quickly for the Super Eagles, but Ahmed Musa made sure that didn't happen just seconds later.

What a start.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 11:27 AM

Nigeria vs. Argentina: Messi, Aguero and Higuain all start for the Albiceleste

June 25, 11:27 AM

The team sheets are out at the Estadio Beira-Rio, where Argentina and Nigeria will lock horns to determine who emerges as Group F winners.

Nigeria (4-3-3)

Enyeama; Ambrose, Yobo, Omeruo, Oshaniwa; Mikel, Onazi, Babatunde; Odemwingie, Emenike, Musa

Argentina (4-3-3)

Romero; Zabaleta, Garay, Fernandez, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di Maria; Aguero, Higuain, Messi 

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters

June 25, 10:48 AM

Nigeria vs. Argentina: Preview

June 25, 10:48 AM

Argentina go into today's contest knowing they have already secured a place in the knockout stages, while their opponents need only a draw to become the first African team of the tournament to advance beyond the group stage.

Will the free-flowing Argentine attack that was stifled by Iran get back into its groove ahead of the last 16, or will Nigeria be able to pull off the upset and top the group?

Based on the surprises this World Cup has provided already, we probably shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the possibility of the latter.

The Details

Teams: Nigeria vs. Argentina

Time: 12:00 PM EST

Venue: Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre

Television: ESPN (U.S.), CBC (Canada)

Injury Report and Suspensions

Argentine manager Alejandro Sabella has no injury concerns to deal with heading into the match, and could opt to give some of his starters a rest before embarking on the knockout stages.

Nigerian bench boss Stephen Keshi, meanwhile, may field the same team that defeated Bosnia 1-0 last week, with the only potential change being the return of defender Godfrey Oboabona in place of veteran Joseph Yobo.

The former missed the match against Bosnia after suffering an ankle injury versus Iran, but has since returned to training and says that he is fully fit.

Historic Head-To-Head

The two teams have met six times in their history, with Argentina not surprisingly holding the edge with four victories. The African side has come away with a win only once.

The most recent encounter saw the Albiceleste claim a 3-1 triumph in 2011, with the game-winner from Angel Di Maria sandwiched between a pair of goals from Gonzalo Higuain.

The two sides were also drawn alongside one another at the 2010 World Cup, with the South Americans taking all three points courtesy of a 1-0 win.

3 Things To Watch

Lionel Messi vs. Vincent Enyeama 

The diminutive attacker will be tasked with opening up a defense that is yet to concede after two matches - the only remaining team with an unblemished defensive record in the tournament.

Much of that is down to the heroics of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who was magnificent when these two teams met in the aforementioned contest four years ago. He was particularly good at foiling Messi, something he'll need to repeat today if Nigeria have a chance to pull off the upset.

Argentina on the counter attack

While Nigeria are almost assured second place in Group F, the Super Eagles head into the contest knowing that only a win will be enough to see them overtake their South American counterparts for top spot in the group.

That would afford them what looks to be (on paper) an easier path to the latter stages of the tournament, and should see them come out looking for the win.

As such, Argentina's vast wealth of attacking talent could find themselves with more space to operate. It might not end well for Nigeria, but at least it will be fun for the neutrals.

Can Marcos Rojo and Ezequiel Garay contain Emmanuel Emenike?

Bosnian defenders Emir Spahic and Senad Lulic were absolutely annihilated by the powerful Nigerian striker, whose combination of pace and strength will give the duo nightmares for months to come.

Rojo has been impressive going forward, but his defensive ability will be tested today by Emenike, who likes to drift out to the right wing and set up one-on-one situations with defenders.

If Rojo is beaten at any point, the task will likely fall to Garay. For Argentina's sake, the center-back will have to fare far better than Spahic did.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters/Marko Djurica