The average age of Argentina’s starting line-up is 30 years and 189 days. That doesn’t say much for their youth system, does it? “I favour Nigeria drawing first blood and treating us to a scintillating half hour on top – then a daft mistake letting Argentina back in to sparkle for a while,” Terna Gyuse says. “What I can’t guess at is if either of these teams can hold it together to finish this game strongly. Can both sides blow it? Leading or trailing, I feel like the pressure will break them both.
“There is just no outcome here that doesn’t make me happy!” Lee Madden chirps. “Argentina go through – the worlds best player rides again and we get an Argentina vs France last 16. Nigeria go through – we get an exciting and dynamic African team qualifying for the last 16! Iceland go through – we’ll, the fairytale continues. Football is, literally, the winner no matter what. “
The lineups are in for Nigeria v Argentina. How do you think this one will go?
Here come the teams! Time for Argentina to show some huevos. Time for Nigeria to make some history of their own. Something has to give. First, though, the anthems.
We’ve had the anthems. You’ll be pleased to hear Leo Messi didn’t seem to be experiencing an existential crisis this time. Unless you’re Nigerian, that is. Or Brazilian. “Was Sampaoli even the right man for Argentina from the start?” Matt Henry says. “His style of play doesn’t seem to suit this group of players, and he doesn’t have the guts to make the kind of dramatic changes needed to implement his style of play.”
Peep! Nigeria kick off from left to right and immediately launch the ball long. Out it goes for a throw to Argentina, who are in their blue and white stripes. Nigeria are in dark green. The atmosphere is electric.
2 min: Both sides look nervous. Passes are going astray. There isn’t much composure yet. Armani gets an early touch after a long pass runs through to him.
4 min: Mercado skips up the right and skews a pass out of play. Hmm. This has the shambolic potential.
7 min: Etebo surges through the middle, through the Argentina midfield, and advances to the edge of the area. Rojo blocks his shot. Argentina break and Messi gets involved for the first time, scampering inside from the right, before winning a free-kick when Etebo brings him down.
8 min: Banega slips a clever pass through to Tagliafico, who charges into the area, only for pressure from Moses to put him off as he shoots high and wide.
9 min: Nigeria win the ball on the edge of the area after Argentina fail to deal with a long throw. Musa wriggles away from Mascherano, but he slips as he shoots and sends a harmless shot over.
10 min: There are signs that Messi’s feeling alert. He goes on another run, this time down the left, and forces his way past a couple of challenges and into the Nigeria area. He tries to find Higuain in the middle, but his cross is cut out.
12 min: There’s plenty of effort from Argentina, but there’s no real sense that they know what they’re doing. Nigeria don’t look overly concerned at the moment
13 min: Mascherano plays a dreadful pass straight to Iheanacho, who has acres of space to attack inside Argentina’s half! Iheanacho’s indecisive, though, and Mascherano races back to atone for his error with a perfect challenge. That was a waste. But another hint of Argentina’s frailties.
GOAL! Nigeria 0-1 Argentina (Messi, 14 min)
Why did you doubt him?
LIONEL MESSI GETS THE OPENER!
What a ball by Banega, what a touch and finish by Messi. Argentina lead Nigeria 1-0. pic.twitter.com/ONbGOjKVkg
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 26, 2018
Ever Banagea picks up possession on the halfway line, looks up and looks for Lionel Messi. There he is, peeling away from Omeruo on the right of the Nigeria area. Banega’s raking pass is perfect. The ball drops on to Messi’s chest. He controls and Omeruo isn’t close enough to him, allowing the little genius to fire a rising right-footed shot across Uzoho! Captain, leader, legend. That is a superb goal from the best player in the world.
17 min: Di Maria wins a free-kick on the left. He’ll take it. “Messi! Messi! Messi!” the Argentinian fans chant. To think some doubt his commitment to the cause.
18 min: Di Maria’s free-kick is too high. Nigeria need to gather their thoughts quickly.
19 min: Moses runs down the right and wins a corner off Tagliafico. Iheanacho’s delivery amounts to nothing. “Well done Messi, great strike under pressure and whatnot, but that pass from Banagea was utterly sublime,” Greg Phillip says. “Just perfect. Ball of the tournament so far.”
22 min: Uzoho boots a clearance out of play. Nigeria look rattled. “Is it me or did Maradona look like he’s taking part in a satanic ritual during that celebration?” Benjamin Park says.
24 min: Higuain charges down a Balogun clearance. All the intensity and momentum belongs to Argentina now. Nigeria lack fluidity. They could do with an extended spell of possession.
26 min: “Banega’s pass “ball of the tournament”?” John Johnson says. “Maybe. But Messi took it on the turn with his knee, nudged it again with his left foot before it hit the ground, at full pelt without breaking stride, and then lashed it across the keeper with his weaker foot. Just a hell of a goal.”
My colleague Rob Smyth says it reminded him of Bergkamp v Argentina in 1998. It obviously wasn’t as difficult as that, but each touch from Messi was class.
27 min: Messi dashes inside from the right and slides a trademark pass down the channel to Higuain, who can’t lift the ball over the onrushing Uwoho. The Nigeria goalkeeper, who was very assertive there, stays down. Higuain collided with him.
29 min: Uzoho is back on his feet. That was a huge save from the Nigerian teenager. You fear for his team, though, because Messi is in the zone.
31 min: Banega, who has such terrific technique, plays a stunning pass through to Di Maria. Nigeria’s defence is so high. Di Maria races through on goal and Balogun clips his heels just outside the area! Di Maria was on his left foot and he was about to shoot, but Balogun gets away with a booking, presumably because Omeruo was in the vicinity. His sacrifice might be for nothing, though, because Messi’s standing over a free-kick 20 yards from goal.
34 min: The free-kick’s a few yards to the left of the D. It wouldn’t normally be made for a left-footer. But let’s face it, Banega isn’t shoving Messi aside. Behave. There’s a thrill of anticipation as Messi trots up to the ball. He lifts it delicately over the wall. The ball curls beautifully to Uzoho’s left – but it hits the post, bounces out and Musa clears!
35 min: On second viewing, that was a splendid save from Uzoho, who got the lightest of touches on Messi’s free-kick to tip it on to the post.
37 min: Messi’s goal was a lesson for Neymar. Every touch was brilliant, but it was all done at maximum efficiency. He wasn’t showing off for the sake of it, he was taking the clearest route to goal. Which isn’t the same as Neymar’s over-indulgence.
39 min: Higuain lays the ball off to Messi, who sprays it out to Di Maria on the left. Moses smothers the winger’s shot.
40 min: “Is this MBM actually being written by Messi’s dad?” says Cristiano Ronaldo Peter Moore.
41 min: Iheanacho knocks a pass down the right. Musa races past Otamendi, but Armani sprints out of the area to boot the ball out for a throw.
42 min: Etebo’s shot goes out for a throw, which sums up Nigeria’s performance since Messi’s goal.
44 min: Musa lifts a cross into the middle from the left. The ball takes a deflection and loops into the air, sparking Iheanacho’s interest. Rojo karate kicks the ball away – isn’t that dangerous play given that the ball was head height? – and then he inadvertently catches Iheanacho’s head with his leg. That could easily have been a penalty for Nigeria.
45 min: There will be two added minutes
45 min+1: Musa spins away from Mercado, who cynically brings him down and somehow escapes without a booking.
Half-time: Nigeria 0-1 Argentina
Peep! Peep! The first half draws to a close with Argentina in front thanks to – you guessed it – a moment of magic from Lionel Messi, the man who apparently doesn’t care about his country. As it stands Argentina are finishing second. But Nigeria are surely going to have something to say about that in the second half!
Argentina manager Lionel Messi has a few words his team-mates in the tunnel before they return to the pitch. Nigeria are replacing Kelechi Iheanacho with Odion Ighalo.
46 min: Argentina get the second half underway.
47 min: Remember, it isn’t over until VAR’s had its say.
48 min: Three Argentina players go for the same ball at the near post and contrive to concede a corner on the left.
PENALTY TO NIGERIA!
49 min: Etebo’s corner from the left is headed away but Mascherano’s penalised for holding Balogun! Mascherano’s booked.
50 min: Victor Moses will take the penalty. But there’s a long delay while Cuneyt Cakir sorts out some pushing and shoving on the edge of the area. Ighalo and Rojo were at it. It all blows over.
GOAL! Nigeria 1-1 Argentina (Moses pen, 51 min)
This is so cool! Moses casually strolls up to the ball, waits for Armani to move to the right and then rolls the ball to the other side! Nigeria level and, as it stands, are going to finish second!
52 min: That penalty came from the crazy lack of communication that led to the Nigeria corner. It was a long throw from Nigeria and three Argentina players all went for the ball. What a farce. They’ve handed Nigeria the upper hand.