Messi, Argentina win Group F with 3-2 victory over Nigeria
FIFA World Cup 2014: Argentina vs. Nigeria preview, live commentary and recap.
Argentina vs. Nigeria (Group F) | Kickoff: 6/25, 12 p.m. ET | Stadium: Beira-Rio
It was a nip-and-tuck affair from the beginning, but Lionel Messi and Argentina were simply too much for Nigeria, winning 3-2 and taking the top spot in Group F.
With Iran's loss Wednesday, Nigeria claimed the second spot in the group and will move through to the knockout stage where it will likely face France.
Messi got started almost immediately, banging home a Angel di Maria miss in the first five minutes of the game. Ahmed Musa answered immediately for Nigeria with a brilliant finish from the side of the box.
The two sides remained tied until just before halftime, when Messi notched his second goal with a free kick that was nothing short of spectacular.
Musa got that one back in the 47th minute, but this time Argentina answered with a goal off a corner kick. Nigeria couldn't find the net again, but the two sides are both through, anyway.
Though Group E play closes later Wednesday, it would be a long shot if anyone but France wins the group. Ecuador and Switzerland are tied at three points apiece, with Ecuador holding the advantage in goal differential.
The team that stays alive and takes second place in the group will face Argentina in the knockout round.
FINAL: Nigeria 2 (Musa 4', 47') - Argentina 3 (Messi 3', 45'+, Rojo 50')
90' -- People are just colliding and laying on the pitch. Let's just go ahead and blow this one dead.
85' -- Enyeama turns away another Argentina chance. Not a lot of defending here. Everyone seems tired and ready to go home now.
80' -- Chances now piling up, as Garay's header had Enyeama beat but it went just wide of the target.
79' -- Ahh, Musa almost got his hat trick goal, but his shot's blocked in the box.
78' -- Argentina tries a sneaky free kick ball into the box, but Lavezzi volley is blocked by Enyeama.
74' -- Musa tries a volley in the box but it sails waaaaaaaay too high. And far.
73' -- Back and forth action, but, frankly, pretty sloppy.
65' -- Michael Babatunde stretchered off after getting hit in the hand with a shot. It didn't look good for him.
63' -- And Messi is coming off. Not a bad day's work.
62' -- Great chance wasted by Nigeria right on the doorstep, but the shot easily caught by Sergio Romero.
60' -- Messi just misses his third as his one touch in front of the net goes begging.
57' -- Finally some breathing from both sides, though Argentina still pushing the action and dominating possession.
49' -- And Rojo answers off a corner for Argentina. What is with these two and the opening five minutes of halves?!
48' -- GOAL!! And we're even! Musa matches Messi, puts in his second.
Halftime: Nigeria had a pretty indifferent approach to the last few minutes of the half, but the result Wednesday probably won't matter. With Bosnia-Herzegovina up 1-0 on Iran, chances are slim this Nigerian side gets sent home, even with a loss.
45'+ -- Welp, not this time. Messi gets a free kick again at the top of the box and gets the better of Enyeama. Just an amazing goal -- his fourth in three games. That little man is truly unbelievable.
44' -- Messi nearly beats Enyeama with a masterful free kick, but it's knocked clear. Quite a duel between these two.
37' -- Sergio Aguero down and he's coming off. He waved off the stretcher and left the field under his own power, so we'll assume he's okay for the knockout stage.
33' -- Ew. Enyeamagoes up and takes an elbow in the lower abdomen area. He's okay, but that was close.
30' -- Di Maria tries a lefty blast far post that nearly sneaks past Enyeama, but the Nigeria keeper knocks it out for a corner.
29' -- Bad touch by Messi. That was weird.
27' -- Great try from distance for Odemwinigie, but his shot sails just a touch high.
25' -- Messi nearly got his second but couldn't get a toe to di Maria's shot, which was skittering wide.
18' -- Okay, it was going to be tough to live up to the first five minutes of this game, but Nigeria and Argentina haven't come close. Lots of lost possession. Get it together, guys.
10' -- Argentina remains on the attack, but Enyeama blocks one and another misses wide.
4' -- UM OKAY. Terrific, terrific finish by Ahmed Musa, and we're even. Quite a start.
3' -- That was fast. Lionel Messi (of course) blasts though an early goal off a rebound.
1' -- And we're off. It will be interesting to see if Nigeria plays for the draw or goes for the win and the top spot in the group.
11:50 a.m. ET: Important to note, the last time these two sides met in a competitive match, in the 2010 Cup, Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama had Messi's number.
Argentina still emerged victorious, 1-0.
11:45 a.m. ET: The mission is simple for Nigeria: don't lose. A draw is all the Nigerians need to move through to the knockout stage.
Here are the lineups for both sides.
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Marcos Rojo, Ezekiel Garay, Federico Fernandez, Pablo Zabaleta; Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Angel Di Maria; Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama; Juwon Oshaniwa, Joseph Yobo, Kenneth Omeruo, Efe Ambrose; Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel; Michel Babatunde, Peter Odemingie, Ahmed Musa; Emmanuel Emenike.
Match Preview: The hard part is over for Argentina; now it's just about positioning.
Lionel Messi ripped a late goal to beat Iran last week, securing a spot in the Round of 16 for Argentina. A win or draw against Nigeria Wednesday puts them atop Group F and probably avoiding a French side that has looked dominant in its first two matches.
The situation is quite different for Nigeria. A win and they are atop Group F, while a loss coupled with an Iran win could see the Nigerians back home. Though it's not likely, given that Iran would have to make up some points in goal differential, which should be a problem for them, seeing as they haven't scored a goal yet.
In any event, this match still holds significance, even though it seems likely both sides will go through. The top side in Group F should have at least a slightly easier road through the knockout stage, given that they'll face Ecuador or Switzerland rather than France in their first match.
One thing that's for certain is that Argentina will have the decided advantage in the stands. Porto Alegre, where the game will be played, is near the Argentina-Brazil border. According to the Associated Press, more than 50,000 Argentina fans are expected to make the trip.
Aside from that edge, the talent is certainly on the Argentine side. But again, all Nigeria needs is a draw to lock up a spot in the knockout stage for the first time since 1998.
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