We witnessed yet another nerve-wracking encounter yesterday night when Argentina narrowly trounced Nigeria and avoided an early exit from this edition of FIFA World Cup. Ever Banega’s inclusion in the Argentina line-up saw an immediate impact in midfield, when his brilliant pinpoint cross found Lionel Messi in opponent’s box which the latter masterly controlled with his left thigh and finished with his right foot giving the Nigerian young 19 year old goalkeeper Francis Uzoho no chance. Messi narrowly missed his second goal when Uzoho made a stunning fingertip save to keep out Messi’s free-kick. In the second half Javier Mascherano irresponsibly conceded a penalty to Nigeria which was coolly slotted home by Victor Moses. Nigeria then had the chance to wrap up the game but Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo profligacy in front of the Argentine goal denied them badly. Argentina attacked frantically but an youthful Nigeria side comfortably thwarted them. When all was looking lost for Argentina, Marcos Rojo’s sweetly struck shot from a Gabriel Mercado cross in the 86th minute gave them the all important win. Croatia and Argentina qualified from Group D. Argentina next face an inform French team in the round of 16. Now let’s analyze the hits and misses from the Argentina versus Nigeria match.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)- Although Messi was heavily marked, he evaded them to meet a fabulous Banega pass which he masterly controlled and finished to give his side the all important lead against a gritty Nigerian side. He nearly doubled when his free kick was brilliantly saved by the young Nigerian goalkeeper. Although he was relatively off-colour in the second half, his brilliant movement in and around Nigeria’s penalty box created space for his team mates to explore. He had the best game so far in the tournament with 7 dribbles, 2 key passes and a passing accuracy of 80%. Rating-8.5/10
Ever Banega (Argentina)- Making his first start in the World Cup, he made an immediate impact with his guile and creativity in the midfield. His pass to Lionel Messi’s goal was unarguably the best pass of the tournament so far. He was in complete charge of the midfield and looked like the only source of creativity upfront for Argentina. Banega’s passing accuracy was a high 88% with 3 key passes,5 long balls and 4 tackles. Rating-8/10
Marcos Rojo (Argentina)- He started in central defense and did a decent job. He was well composed on the ball and his ball distribution at the back was good. In the second half his defending looked desperate as he was constantly moving forward to help his team. His decisive winner in the 86th minute bailed out Argentina from an early exit. It was a sumptuous finish. He made a total of 5 clearances, 3 interceptions and 2 tackles in the match. Rating-7.5/10
Javier Mascherano (Argentina)- He started off well but soon his game became erratic and started losing possession of the ball in dangerous positions in the first half. He was easily overpowered by an youthful Nigerian team. Needlessly gave a penalty to Nigeria by dragging down Leon Balogun in his own box. Mascherano was extremely lucky not to evade a second yellow card in the later stages of the match. Rating-4/10
Odion Ighalo (Nigeria)- Nigeria’s Coach Gernot Rohr introduced Ighalo to replace Kelechi Iheanacho at the beginning of the second half to add more fire power upfront but his profligacy in front of the goal eventually knocked out the Nigerians. He missed two absolute sitters to send the Nigerians out of the tournament. His misses proved so,so costly for the poor Nigerians.His ball control and shooting let him down. Rating-4/10
Angel Di Maria (Argentina)- Although he started off well in the opening minutes of the first half, he faded out gradually as the match progressed. He missed a big chance when he was clean through and was dragged back unjustly by Balogun. In the second half struggled badly with poor ball control and misplaced passes. He did not help his team mates with passes in the final third.He looked like an ageing veteran of 20-30 minutes. Di Maria’s passing was a lowly 59% with zero key passes and zero crosses. Coach Sampoali needs to find a replacement fast before the France match. Rating-5/10