Nigeria vs Argentina match report World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi lands ‘from Jupiter’ to nestle in Argentinian hearts

Nigeria 2 Argentina 3

Estadio Beira Rio

His name was ringing out into the darkness on the long road home to Uruguaiana, on the Argentine border, and well beyond, last night. Lionel Messi’s compatriots had made the 11-hour trek by road to belong to this World Cup campaign in some small way, and for the tens of thousands who did not even step inside the stadium, the journey was worth it because of him.

“Messi is is from Jupiter. He is different. He is one hell of a player. You can’t take it away from him,” the Nigerian manager Stephen Keshi reflected in defeat. Messi’s relationship with his country has been a complicated one, ever since he left for Spain on an Aerolineas Argentinas jet as a 13-year-old. The Buenos Aires locals expect their nation’s stars to play for one of the city’s clubs before they leave. But in one hour of football Messi added to the real notion that this tournament will all boil down to a two-man shoot-out between Neymar and him. Single-handedly, the Barcelona men have borne their countries into the second round. They have both scored four goals at this World Cup.

Video: Nigeria vs Argentina match report

The Brazilians are ready for that match-up. Though the affection for Messi is something of a guilty secret in Sao Paulo, where shirts bearing his name are seen in a way that the detested Diego Maradona’s never were, Brazil feels its totemic player is the more complete of the two. But the Argentine is playing with an ease, conviction and a broad smile on his face. It will take something special to stop him travelling all the way to the Maracana on 13 July. Another absorbing test of Louis van Gaal’s quality may lie ahead, with the Dutch are scheduled to meet the resurgent force of nature in a semi-final.

 

The suspicion remains, as it has throughout these past three weeks, that flaws exist around him. None in blue and white could hold a candle to his presence. No other member of the so-called “fantastic four” – Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria – has found the net in this competition. The defence looked suspect. “We will try to make it more robust,” said coach Alex Sabella. “If you do that in round of 16 you have to go home if you do a bad job.” But the performance suggested that this nation is ready to unfurl itself on the knock-out stage, for all that.

The Nigerians began far too respectfully and Messi gave thanks for some space. Never before have both teams scored in the first five minutes of a game at a World Cup finals and Messi was right to cast a glance to the heavens when he provided the first of them. It was a pinball goal – a shot from di Maria in the left hand channel rebounding off the base of the post, back on to it off the back of Vincent Enyeama’s head and sitting up for Messi to blast high into the net.

The African reply was breathtaking, Michael Babaunde unfurling a ball to Ahmed Musa of CSKA Moscow, who cut inside to crack an angled shot well beyond Sergio Romero when Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta allowed him fractionally too much leeway. But the game belonged to Argentina, even then. There was more creative potential for them than the Iranians had permitted on Saturday and El Enano (“the little man”) as the players like to call Messi, navigated an easy path. There was his 20th-minute free kick that Jon Obi Mikel almost diverted past Enyeama. The 43rd-minute free-kick that the 31-year-old Lille keeper leapt to parry away. And then the golden strike, a minute into first-half injury-time, which he did not even bother leaping for. It was his 10th goal in his last eight appearances for the national side.

Those who next lie in the Argentinians’ way will certainly take encouragement from the way the Nigerians came back again – less cowed after the interval. Sabella’s central defenders were bisected and out of position when Musa ran on to Emmanuel Emenike’s pass and threaded the ball inside Romero’s left post.  But fortune still favoured Argentina in their next rally. A corner by substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi – on after Sergio Aguero limped off after 37 minutes with a thigh injury which was heavily strapped up last night – ricocheted off Ezequiel Garay’s head and in off the knee of Marcos Rojo.

Sabella was able to withdraw Messi to preserve him for the workload to come. Nigeria tweaked the formation from 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 as the game evolved into a form of experimentation. Enyeama is exuberant but created some chaos at the back for the side who will face the French next. The Africans also lost Michael Babatunde for the tournament, too, in freak circumstances. He was taken off on a stretcher with a broken hand, which has ended his World Cup, when hit by the ball.

The challenge was still not extinguished. The dangerous Musa cut into the left hand side of the box and delivered a shot which was well blocked by Zabaleta. Efe Ambrose, the right-back, penetrated the opposite side of the area but Garay deflected his shot into the side netting.

Messi was cocooned at the heart of the Argentine nation, last night. He was asked: Why did he want to be a world champion? “Because there is nothing more beautiful than seeing the entire joy of the entire country,” he replied.

News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
Sport
Premier League Live Saturday 23 August
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition