by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 25th 2013)
The Messi Show
Inspired by the great Lionel Messi Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 to match Colombiaʼs feat in topping their group. Within two minutes Messi opened the scoring, achieving something Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina combined could not – beating the exceptionally gifted Super-Eaglesʼ goal-keeper Vincent Enyeama. Enyeama went two months without conceding a goal in Ligue Un. Just over a minute later CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa equalised. Michael Babatunde set him up for a splendid goal.
With almost the last kick of the first half Messiʼs second free-kick in quick succession restored Argentinaʼs lead. Up and over the wall it dipped sufficiently to beat Enyeama whose heroics had proved a formidable barrier to Argentinaʼs ambitions. Less than a minute into the second half Musa equalised again. Emmanuel Emenike got the assist.
The winner as it proved to be came shortly afterwards. Paris Saint-Germainʼs Ezequiel Lavezziʼs shot was saved by Enyeama at the expense of a corner. Lavezzi took the corner which glanced off Ezequiel Garay Gonzálezʼ head onto Marcos Rojoʼs knee and in, leaving Enyeama with no chance.
A Formidable Final Barrier
Lilleʼs keeper enhanced his growing reputation with a string of excellent saves. With less than ten minutes played Messi slotted it through for Gonzalo Higuaín, but Enyeama stayed big, forcing Higuaín wide enough to make him put his shot wide of the near post. With quarter of an hour played Sergio Agüeroʼs cross was claimed on the ground by Enyeama at his near post, preventing a tap-in.
Real Madridʼs Ángel di María Hernández had a wonderful match, orchestrating chances and testing Enyeama himself. Just under half an hour into the match di Maríaʼs 23 yard shot was tipped round the post by Enyeama. Chelseaʼs John Mikel Obi was caught in possession by Lavezzi and fouled him. Messiʼs 30 yard free-kick was acrobatically saved by Enyeama, but another free-kick was quickly conceded and Messi gave no chance with that one.
Less than 5 minutes into the second half di Maríaʼs shot resulted in Enyeama saving at the expense of the corner that he was unlucky to concede from. Messi put Higuaín through with less than ten second half minutes played, but Enyeama saved again. With just over a quarter of an hour remaining Enyeama denied Lavezzi.
Nigeria contributed to an entertaining match. Efe Ambroseʼs effort hit the side-netting and the Super-Eagles, despite losing, showed how to play Argentina. The freak injury to Babatundeʼs arm notwithstanding, it was a good performance in a tournament that has been disappointing for the African nations. Iranʼs defeat by Bosnia-Herzegovina meant the defeat didnʼt matter.
After a string of first round failures Nigeria has reached the last 16. They will most likely play against France who play Ecuador tonight. Honduras and Switzerland still have hopes of qualifying as do Ecuador. It will take a freakish set of results to deny France a place in the last 16.