Group F, Match 5
Lionel Messi stole the show for the third Argentina match in a row, propelling his team to a 3-2 win over a dogged Nigeria side who qualified for the World Cup last 16 regardless on Wednesday, reports Goal.com.
Barcelona superstar Messi was at his brilliant best at Estadio Beira-Rio on Wednesday, following up a stunning half-volley with a superb free kick.
His efforts, though, were twice cancelled out by the equally impressive Ahmed Musa as Nigeria put in a spirited display.
They eventually succumbed as Marcos Rojo's unorthodox finish five minutes after half-time ensured Argentina went through with a maximum haul of nine points.
The Africa Cup of Nations champions look likely to face France in the last 16, with Argentina probably on course to tackle Switzerland or Ecuador - with Group E set to be concluded later on Wednesday.
Any hopes Nigeria had of getting the point they required were dented immediately as Messi fired the two-time champions ahead.
Angel Di Maria was instrumental, charging into the area before unleashing a fierce strike that hit the post, struck the back of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and bounced back onto the woodwork.
Unfortunately for the African side, as the ball ricocheted back into the area, Messi was on hand to power home a sublime half-volley.
But Nigeria were not willing to be the supporting act for too long and levelled a minute later, Musa picking up the ball on the left flank before cutting inside and expertly bending a curling effort beyond Sergio Romero.
Argentina required a response, and they almost found one soon afterwards when Gonzalo Higuain poked a shot wide after getting on the end of Messi's through-ball.
It was Di Maria who was causing the greatest threat, his low 25-yard strike forcing a good save from Enyeama. Yet Messi assumed centre stage again to re-establish his side's lead.
Having forced a fine save from Enyeama with a curling set-piece, he left the Nigeria goalkeeper stranded from exactly the same position in first-half injury time after the mercurial Barcelona man had been brought down by Kenneth Omeruo.
Far from downhearted, Nigeria found an almost immediate riposte after the interval as Musa ran into a huge gap between the Argentina centre-backs and slotted past Romero, having been picked out by Emmanuel Emenike.
However, as the momentum swung once more, Argentina moved in front for the third time just three minutes later, Rojo kneeing Ezequiel Lavezzi's corner home in unorthodox fashion.
Suddenly attacking with renewed verve, Alejandro Sabella's men began to look increasingly threatening - with Enyeama having to be on high alert to keep out a Higuain effort before Messi slid a shot wide.
The Argentina captain was withdrawn in the 63rd minute, to a rapturous ovation from the crowd.
Sabella's side barely missed a beat in his absence, although some poor finishing - summed up by Di Maria hitting straight at the goalkeeper towards the end - ultimately meant that they did not add to their tally.
Man of the Match: L Messi (ARG)
Match Commentary - as it happened
90' + 4' FULL-TIME!
90' + 2' Nigeria area being allowed plenty of possession, but Argentina do not look particularly troubled. The match appears to be petering out, while Di Maria tries his luck from near the halfway line. His effort lands on the roof of the goal, though.
90' + 1' Substitution: Gonzalo Higuaín out, Lucas Biglia in.
90' There will be four minutes of stoppage time.
88' Sabella looks rather concerned and rightly so. Nigeria go close again as Ambrose shows clever feet to get into the right side of the box before getting a shot away, but a deflection takes it into the side-netting.
86' But Argentina remain very dangerous on the break! Di Maria races through down the left with only Yobo to keep him company and he finally gets a shot away, but Enyeama makes the block.
84' Not far from a Nigeria equaliser there as Emenike is given a lot of space towards the right and he fires a shot towards the far side of the goal, but he send the effort just wide of the post.
83' Argentina are inviting rather a lot of presure on to themselves at the moment. Nigeria are getting plenty of men forward and you wouldn't be surprised to see them equalise again here.
81' And now Garay goes close! The centre-back - who was officially announced as a Zenit player earlier today - meets a corner delivery with a good header, but it narrowly misses the top-right corner.
80' Substitution: Peter Odemwingie out, Uche Nwofor in.
79' HUGE TACKLE BY ZABALETA! Nigeria spring a counterattack down the left and Musa appears to have beaten Zabaleta, cutting inside him and shaping to shoot. The Manchester City full-back looks stranded, but he pulls off a great last-ditch tackle to block the shot.
78' ENYEAMA DENIES ARGENTINA A FOURTH! Lavezzi and Di Maria stand over a free-kick on the right-hand side and after the former plays it short, the Real Madrid man loops the ball into the area, but Lavezzi's volley is kept out by the keeper.
76' Good move by Nigeria as they keep possession just outside the Argentina area. Mikel then holds off a couple of challenges before feeding a pass out to the right. Ambrose takes a touch and then crosses, but his delivery is easily dealt with by Romero.
74' Decent chance for Nigeria as the ball is played across the Argentina area for Emenike and the forward meets it with a first-time effort, but it goes over the bar.
72' Great play by Lavezzi. The PSG man breezes past Ambrose like he isn't even there as he races into the left side of the Nigerian penalty area. He fires a cross into the danger area, but Higuain wasn't quick enough to get on the end of it.
71' Mikel tries to drive Nigeria forward through the middle, but after skipping past one defender he is easily tackled by Mascherano and Argentine eye a counterattack.
69' This match has lost some of its flow following Messi's substitution and the injury to Babatunde. Nigeria, though, do look a little more fluid and they are being invited forward more regularly.
67' Nigeria are trying to get men forward as often as they can, but they just are not linking up well in the final third. Emenike comes deep and looks to thread Uchebo through towards the area, but his pass is poor.
66' Substitution: Michael Babatunde out, Michael Uchebo in.
65' Unfortunately it seems Babatunde will be unable to continue. The forward has been taken off on a stretcher after a ball smashed into his arm. On comes Uchebo.
63' Substitution: Lionel Messi out, Ricardo Álvarez in.
63' Messi will not be scoring a hat-trick today as he is taken off for Ricky Alvarez, with the Barcelona star being given a great reception.
62' Nigeria do look capable to causing some trouble on the attack, but their final ball has left a lot to be desired so far. On this occasion, Emenike controls in a deep position and then tries to beat his man, but he is easily tackled.
60' ALMOST A THIRD FOR MESSI! Rojo does brilliantly to latch on to a pass over the Nigeria defence and after just about escaping the offside trap, he squares into the danger area for Messi. The forward manages to get a shot away while being nudged over and it goes agonisingly wide.
59' The corner comes to nothing, but Nigeria remain encamped in their own penalty area. Can they withstand this pressure and equalise for a third time, or will this be all Argentina from now on?
58' Corner to Argentina now as Lavezzi attacks down the right and is knocked over, but he manages to kick the ball on to the defender and win his side a set-piece.
56' There is quite an atmosphere in Porto Alegre now. The stands are rocking, with the huge Argentina contingent making a great racket. You would have thought this was being played in Buenos Aires!
54' Great run by Higuain as he bursts into the left side of the area, latching on to a perfect pass from Messi. The Napoli forward marches into the danger area and flicks his right foot to direct a shot towards goal, but Enyeama makes a crucial block.
52' This has not been a bad game so far! Argentina don't look ready to settle for this score, though, and they are continuously piling men forward in attack to extend their lead. Perhaps this will play into Nigeria's hands.
51' Yellow Card Juwon Oshaniwa
50' Goal M. Rojo
GOAL!!! ARGENTINA STRIKE BACK! Messi's corner is driven into the area and Garay meets it with a header. His effort isn't get, but Rojo is there just behind him and he inadvertently knocks the ball into the net with his knee!
49' Yellow Card Kenneth Omeruo
49' Great stop by Enyeama as he palms Di Maria's 20-yard effort over the crossbar, but the danger is by no means over. Argentina now have a corner.
47' Assist Emenike
47' Goal Ahmed Firaz Musa
47' GOAL!!! MUSA EQUALISES AGAIN! The CSKA Moscow winger come in off the left flank and plays a one-two with Emenike, with the return pass playing him into the area. Musa shapes to shoot towards the right-hand corner, but he disguises his shot and finds the opposite corner.46' The match is underway for the second half as Nigeria get us started.
The referee blows his whistle to end an entertaining first half and Argentina take a deserved 2-1 lead into the break. Messi gave them an early lead in emphatic fashion and although Nigeria immediately struck back through Musa in style, the South Americans were on top throughout. Aguero's injury leaves a slight blemish on their day, but they have been much better today than they were in either of their first two games. Nigeria, meanwhile, look powerless to resist Messi and Co.
45' + 2' HALF-TIME!
45' + 1' Goal Lionel Messi
GOAL!!! MESSI GETS HIS SECOND! The free-kick is a little closer than his previous attempt, but Enyeama is unable to do anything about this one. Messi steps up and curls a brilliant effort over the ball and into the right side of the goal. Argentina will go into the break with the lead.
45' + 1' Messi wins Argentina another free-kick, in a similar position to the last. The 27-year-old charged through a number of tackles and was brought down by Onazi, giving him another great chance from a set-piece.
44' Great effort by Messi! Messi did decide to go straight for goal and his shot was heading straight for the top-right corner, but Enyeama threw himself across the goal and clawed it away.
43' Free-kick to Argentina about 30 yards from goal. Mikel was caught in possession by Lavezzi and the Chelsea man brings the attacker down cynically. Messi may eye a shot from here, but a cross would be more likely.
42' Here comes another pause, just when Argentina were trying to build up steam. Onazi took a bit of a clattering from Rojo, but he is soon up and walking about again.
40' Well, not on this occasion anyway. Fernandez manages to get a header away from a corner, but his looping effort is dealt with by Enyeama, who palms the effort on to the roof of the goal.
39' Bosnia send a free kick in the middle up towards Ibisevic. He is unable to win a clear header but the ball falls for Dzeko. The Manchester City man's first touch does not bring it under his control, though, and the Iranian defence are able to get a foot in and remove the danger.
37' Spahic is caught exceptionally late by Reza and the Bosnian captain stays on the deck in pain. The medical crew come on and he is stretchered off the pitch. It is unclear whether he will return to the action.
35' STAT: Iran are the only side not to have scored a goal so far this tournament. They now need to find two today should they have any chance of progessing to the round of 16.
33' Argentina have themselves another corner. Aguero pounces on a loose ball and smashes it towards goal, but Oshaniwa makes a vital block and it goes behind.
31' Messi whips in the resulting corner and Argentina have tentative penalty claims turned down as Rojo is adamant the ball struck Ambrose on the arm when challenging him in the air. However, resplays suggest there was little substance to his claims.
30' DI MARIA GOES CLOSE! Nigeria are not learning from their previous mistakes and yet again they fail to close Di Maria down. This time his long-range effort looks destined for the bottom-right corner, but Enyeama tips it around the post.
29' Threatening play by Messi as he drifts across the Nigerian defence with the ball seemingly glued to his feet, but his final ball is poor as he passes straight out of play when trying to feed Aguero in to his right.
27' Nigeria have not offered much attacking threat since their goal, to be honest. However, Odemwingie goes fairly close as he cuts in from the right and drives a left-footed effort from distance. The effort flies comfortably over the bar, though.
25' Di Maria has definitely been Argentina's greatest threat so far. This time he picks up possession just outside the area and he slips an inviting pass in towards the far post, but neither Higuain or Aguero are quite able to reach it.
23' IRAN UPDATE: Bosnia have taken the lead against Iran, which is of course good news for Nigeria. If Carlos Queiroz's men lose, Nigeria go through regardless of their result against Argentina.
22' There is a brief pause in play now as Oshaniwa seeks medical attention. The defender clashed with Gago and appeared to be squashed by the Boca midfielder.
20' Enyeama has had a busy 20 minutes and he is called into action again, but by his own team-mate this time. Messi stands over a free-kick about 35 yards from goal and he floats a delivery into the area. Mikel gets a flick on the ball with his head, but thankfully for Nigeria it goes straight to Enyeama.
18' Coolly done by Oshaniwa as he produces a Cruyff turn to get away from the approaching Aguero, but I doubt Enyeama or his coach will have been too happy with that, even though he wasn't caught out.
16' Argentina are finding so much space in the attacking third. On this occasion Aguero gets into the right side of the area and smashes a low ball into the danger zone, but Enyeama does well to get down and cut it out.
14' Di Maria has been lively so far and he is involved again now as he plays a one-two with Higuain, who lifts the ball into the area for his former Real Madrid team-mate, but Ambrose covers well to halt the opportunity.
12' Nigeria don't appear to be playing with a great deal of nerves. They are knocking the ball around confidently and they look dangerous when Babatunde and Musa are on the ball. However, will their defence provide a strong foundation?
10' HIGUAIN FINDS THE SIDE-NETTING! Argentina are enjoying themselves at the moment and Messi crafts another great chances as he plays an excellent throughball into the area for Higuain, and after being forced wide by Enyeama, he can only shoot into the side-netting.
8' Di Maria goes close on this occasion. The Real Madrid winger is afforded a lot of space in the attacking third and he opts to try his luck from distance, but Enyeama manages to punch the effort away, albeit a little unconvincingly.
6' Well, what a start we have been treated to. Who saw that coming? Argentina appeared buoyed by their brilliant support in Porto Alegre, but Nigeria showed they will not be giving up without a fight.
4' Assist Michael Babatunde
4' Goal Ahmed Firaz Musa
GOAL!!! WHAT A FINISH! Nigeria are straight back on level terms in Porto Alegre. The Africans halt Messi in his tracks in their own half and launch a deadly counterattack. Eventually Musa latches on to the ball on the left flank, he cuts into the area and on to his right foot, before lashing an exquisite finish past Romero and into the far side of the goal.
3' Goal Lionel Messi
GOAL!!! ARGENTINA ARE OFF TO A FLYER! Di Maria produces great movement down the left to charge into the danger area and fire in towards the near post and although his effort is knocked on to the post, Messi arrives late to blast in the rebound in emphatic fashion.
2' An injury to Mascherano sees Argentina bring play to a brief halt, but the Barcelona midfielder appears to be fine following his clash with Peter Odemwingie.
1' The game is on in Porto Alegre!
The South Americans may well have accumulated six points from their opening two games, they have not been totally convincing. Sabella's side were bailed out by a piece of magic from Messi against Bosnia-Herzegovina to win 2-1 in their opening match, and then against Iran the Barcelona star struck in second-half stoppage time to secure qualification. Performances have not been up to scratch and Sabella will be hopeful of an improvement.
Although Alejandro Sabella's Argentina may already be through to the next round, this match still has plenty riding on it as Nigeria target a spot in the knockout phase. Stephen Keshi's men come into the fixture with four points, three more than Iran. Therefore, the Africans can guarantee qualification with a point, but will Argentina be disappointing once again?
Argentina subs: Orion, Andujar, Campagnaro, Biglia, Perez, Rodriguez, Augusto Fernandez, Demichelis, Palacio, Alvarez, Lavezzi, Basanta.
Argentina (4-2-2-2): Romero; Zabaleta, Garay, FernAndez, Rojo; Mascherano, Gago; Di MarIa, Messi; Aguero, HiguaIn.
Nigeria subs: Uzoenyi, Gabriel, Egwuekwe, Moses, Kunle, Oboabona, Azeez, Ejide, Nwofor, Uchebo, Agbim, Shola Ameobi
Nigeria (4-2-3-1): Enyeama; Ambrose, Yobo, Oshaniwa, Omeruo; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Babatunde, Odemwingie; Emenike.
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