A double from Lionel Messi a day after his 27th birthday inspired Argentina to a 3-2 win over African champions Nigeria on Wednesday at the World Cup and assured the Argentines first place in Group F.
Nigeria's defeat, their fourth in four World Cup meetings against Argentina, came with the considerable consolation that they still progressed to the second round as Iran lost 3-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the other group game.
Argentina showed more attacking flair after low-key wins over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran but in the end, they still depended heavily on the genius of Messi.
The match got off to a stunning start as Messi fired home his third goal of the finals after two-and-a-half minutes to finally crack a Nigerian defence that had not conceded a goal in their previous two matches.
A telling pass by Fernando Gago found Angel di Maria only for the Real Madrid man's shot to ricochet off the near post. As the loose ball bounced, Messi raced in to slam the ball into the roof of Vincent Enyeama's net.
Argentina's lead lasted all of 80 seconds when CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa curled the ball artfully past Sergio Romero and inside the far post.
Enyeama then did well to keep the scores level when keeping out di Maria's thunderous low drive from 30 metres out.
After 38 minutes, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella was forced into an unscripted change of personnel when Sergio Aguero limped off to be replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi.
As the interval approached, Messi struck a free kick from outside the box, only to be denied by another fine save from Enyeama. But just before half time, Messi hit an identical free kick from almost exactly the same position and this time Enyeama was caught flat-footed.
Musa levelled only two minutes into the second half, bursting between Argentine defenders Federico Fernandez and Marcos Rojo before shooting coolly past Romero.
Rojo settled the game with his first international goal three minutes later, knocking the ball home with his knee off a corner after Nigeria failed to clear Ezequiel Garay's header.
Sabella removed Messi on the hour, Ricardo Alvarez coming on in his place.
Musa had a hat-trick flashing in front of his eyes in the final quarter of an hour when he cut inside Pablo Zabaleta only for the Manchester City defender to produce a superb tackle to deny him the scoring opportunity.
Tens of thousands of Argentine fans had traveled to Porto Alegre for the match, taunting Brazilian spectators by singing “Maradona is greater than Pele” at the 44,000-capacity Beira-Rio Stadium.
The Brazilians booed and held up five fingers to remind the Argentines of how many World Cups they've won. Argentina have won only two.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
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Date created : 2014-06-25