Argentina vs. Nigeria. If ever a game in this group was shaped up to be, as they say, proper mint, this was it. Two unchanged sides, one though for definite and playing front of a St. James’ Park worth of Argentinians. The other, through regardless of the result, so long as Bosnia – Herzegovina beat Iran, also playing in front of said Argentinians.
It took all of three minutes for the first goal; an amazing Mascherano though-ball to Di María whose shot hit the post and it was that man again, Messi who walloped the rebound into the top of the net.
20 seconds later, Nigeria equalised; Babatunde running at the Argentina defence, slipping the ball to Musa who turned inside Zabaletta and released a vicious shot, leaving Romero with no chance.
The match was set to be something special, Argentina playing their high-pressure, pressing game, showing some exquisite interplay between the midfield and Nigeria sticking to their guns, attacking on the counter with the pace of Musa and Eminike.
Bosnia – Herzegovina vs. Iran was not televised, unfortunately; Edin Džeko helping Nigeria on with a great solo goal after about 20 minutes.
Sergio Agüero came off injured after 37 minutes to be replaced by Lavezzi ‘el Pocho’ who sports a mulleted Maradona tattoo on his not so chubby navel. By the end of the first half, Argentina were just edging it, Enyeama being called into action a few times, but the impressive Nigerian goalkeeper was rooted to the spot as Messi slammed a free kick into the top corner.
Half time and all was well in the Nigerian camp. Bosnia still ahead thanks to the crossbar and a horrible mis-kick from Ghoochannejhad.
There was no let up in the 2nd half. Ahmed Musa equalising for Nigeria on 47 minutes, ripping through a gap in the centre of the Argentnian defence and rifling the ball past Romero.
It wasn’t long, however before Argentina were in front again; a superb shot from Di María was turned over the bar by Enyeama and Marcos Rojo headed in from the resulting corner.
Miralem Pjanić put the game beyond Iran on 58 minutes and Messi was substituted for Alvarez just after the hour mark. Nigeria, however, suffered a blow as the impressive Babatunde took the full force of an Onazi shot in the hand; a gruesome slow-motion replay illustrating just why he was stretchered off with his arm wrapped in a bandage.
Two goals in a minute and Bosnia – Herzegovina were 3-1 up, Ghoochannejhad getting a goal back for Iran before Vršajević replied. 83 minutes gone.
The game ended with the rapturous songs of Argentina ringing around Estádio Beira-Rio with both teams making it through the group stages, both well-deserved.
Argentina were always getting through this one, they still look a little rocky in defence but you cannot deny their class. It’s not just Messi, but players such as Di María and Zabaletta can and will hurt you if you take your eyes off them for even a second. Nigeria play with pace, strength and no fear whatsoever; their style has been a pleasure to watch and I hope they go far in this competition.
Bosnia – Herzegovina and Iran have shown real character but with the standard of football (mostly) so high in the 2014 World Cup (*ahem* England *ahem*), they simply haven’t had enough. They both, unlike England, leave this tournament with no shame.
Sign him up!: (In a not-at-all-Karel-Poborsky-style-reactionary-way) Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama; a commanding presence in his box, superb shot-stopper and it’s always nice to see a professional footballer having a laugh with the officials at half time rather than bitching whining…or even biting…
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