World Cup Argentina vs Nigeria Match: Cheers, only for now- Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 28, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:16 AM, June 28, 2018

Cheers, only for now

Lionel Messi lives on in the World Cup, at least for another match in Russia.

God was with Argentina in that nerve-wracking match against Nigeria, where the two-time world champions clawed back from the brink of a humiliating exit to a sensational late win.

To qualify from Group D into the round of 16, Argentina needed a win against the Super Eagles and a draw or defeat from Iceland against Croatia. Everything happened in Argentina's favour but not without hiccups.

It was in fact all drama on Tuesday night.

The players' revolt against coach Jorge Sampaoli, controversy over team combination, Messi's missed penalty in the 1-1 draw against newcomers Iceland and the 3-0 mauling at the hands of Croatia set the stage for the drama to unfold.

One of the greatest players of all time, Messi, who cracked under pressure and appeared a stranger among teammates against Croatia, got back to his best with a magical goal that only he can score.

Running in behind Nigerian left-back Kenneth Omeruo and twisting his upper body to the left, Messi received a lofted cross by Ever Banega from the halfway line. He took the ball down on his left thigh, feather-touched it forward with his left boot and beat the keeper with his right foot, never breaking stride in the process.

Lots of drama followed the 45th-minute goal. Messi came close to scoring again with a free-kick, the ever-trusted Javier Mascherano's foul helped Nigeria win the equaliser six minutes into the second half, Gonzalo Higuain blasted miles over the bar from close, Argentina started to play like disjointed pieces of a machine, Mascherano wasted not a second to treat his blood-oozing wound on his face and Nigeria were denied a penalty appeal through VAR (video assistant referee). Interestingly, the referee gave a reverse verdict over an unintentional ball-handling inside the box in Iran's favour against Portugal only the other day.

When it all appeared over for Argentina, centreback Marcos Rojo -- having survived the handball appeal -- fired a one-touch boomer into the bottom corner of the net to lend the final twist in the dying minutes.

It was a huge relief for Argentina. The early morning uproar in Bangladesh and intense jubilation in Russia may suggest Argentina have won the World Cup!

Argentine football god Diego Maradona, who forecast that his country would not win a single match, was seen demonstrating his antics in the stand, rolling his eyes, mumbling at the sky, showing two middle fingers, nodding off to sleep in tension and, eventually, ending up in hospital.

Argentina survived; so has the attraction of the World Cup. But frankly, Argentina will not be able to survive another match in the knockout phase unless they radically improve as a team.

The ball only made sense when it was at Messi's feet. Apart from that, they were a group of individuals, which looked disastrous against Nigeria. Harmony among them was sorely missing. They were chasing the ball without purpose, badly organised at the back, losing the ball, making little effort in building concerted attacks and pathetic up front.

In Sampaoli, La Albiceleste was virtually a dead man stomping in front of the dugout. The match hardly reflected his tactical brilliance, intelligent substitution or control over players. He indeed switched from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 formation and made five changes in the team to ensure the adequate supply of passes to Messi, the heart of Argentina. And the outcome was that Messi got only one good pass in the whole 95 minutes, from which he scored.

Against France on June 30, Sampaoli needs to come up with a sound game plan and sort out players who can make it work together. His game plan revolved around Messi despite having plenty of top marksmen in his possession. His strategy should allow Messi to play freely and without pressure, enjoying his game. 

Can Sampaoli think of a way? If not, God too might give up on Messi & Co. 


The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star

Leave your comments