World Cup: Nigeria 1 Argentina 2 - 5 things you need to know

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal.
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal.PHOTO: REUTERS

In a night of high drama, Argentina staged a late heist to snatch the points away from Nigeria to qualify for the last 16 at the African side's expense. Marcos Rojo's winner three minutes from time ensured that Jorge Sampaoli's team, disjointed as they are, stagger across the line as Group D runner-up. For the gritty Nigerians, the defeat would have tasted like a kick in the guts.

1. The goals

Nigeria (Victor Moses 51st minute penalty) Argentina (Lionel Messi 14th, Marcos Rojo 87th)

2. The wow moment

Messi's goal was well, classic Messi. His magnetic ball control was there for all to see when he cushioned Ever Banega's long ball on his thigh and in one fluid motion, rammed the ball into the net with his weaker right foot. We have not seen much of Argentina's top gun but he certainly came to life in this moment to remind us of his considerable powers.

3. The talking point

Jorge Sampaoli had the credentials to be Argentina coach. After all, he led Chile to the 2015 Copa America with high pressing tactics. But he has failed to extract the best out of his home country. Sampaoli tried 3-3-3-1 and 4-2-3-1 during qualifying to try to build a team around Messi but in the end, he gambled it all on the most basic formation of all - 4-4-2. He went maximum firepower with Messi partnering Gonzalo Higuain in attack, supported by Angel di Maria on the wing and Ever Banega's playmaking. He later threw on Sergio Aguero in the late stages to force a result and that paid off. The team spirit that had been lacking came back and Argentina will want to use this to pivot their campaign around now that they had sailed through one heck of a thunderstorm.

4. The star


He has been accused of valuing Barcelona above Argentina but Messi showed how much pulling on that white and blue striped shirt means to him with an emotional celebration after his goal against Nigeria. He screamed and raised his arms in triumph before kneeling on the turf. And even as the Super Eagles detailed at least four men to surround him once he is in possession, Messi kept plugging away. And in stoppage time, he gave us real collectors' items when he did a sliding tackle to stop the ball reaching his own half and even charged down a Nigeria clearance. Gegenpressing... yeah!

5. What the result means

By the skin of their teeth, Argentina squeezed through the Group D door at the last moment, taking four points to finish runner-up behind Croatia. Nigeria will leave Russia after impressing with their energetic brand of football. Now that the last 16 place is confirmed, Argentina will want to heal their internal wounds, with stories abound of falling outs and arguments. They will want to harness the positive energy provided by this dramatic win and use it to propel them onwards at the World Cup. The world needs a real Messi vs Ronaldo duel. At the moment, it is game on. But first, a last 16 match against France.