It was a painful end to the Super Eagles’ 2018 World Cup campaign as they were sent home by Argentina in a 2-1 loss at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Nicolas Otamendi attempted a deep through-ball that went right the way through for Francis Uzoho to collect in the fifth minute.
Argentina were given the chance to counter after their opponents omitted a few bodies forward.
John Obi Mikel illegally blocked the run of Lionel Messi and escaped with just a telling off from the Turkish referee.
Nicolas Tagliafico then burst into the Eagles box but, under a bit of pressure and already off balance, the Ajax man miscued his shot wide of the target.
Ahmed Musa had a couple of bright moments. The Leicester City striker’s first shot of the evening was a disappointing one, though, as he lost his footing as he pulled the trigger and could not test goalkeeper Franco Armani.
The Krestovsky Stadium erupted in the 14th minute. Messi who is carrying the weight of a nation finally ended his barren scoring run at the World Cup finals with an impressive finish past Uzoho. The forward latched on to a through-ball from Ever Banega and kept his composure in front of goal.
Messi’s name was being chanted around the ground. That was the 100th goal of the 2018 World Cup.
The pass over the top from Banega for that goal was very good, and the take from Messi even better. It was a goal that had Diego Maradona celebrating high in the stands, as his beloved nation attempt to salvage their World Cup campaign.
It was not quite happening for the Super Eagles in the final third. Javier Mascherano tried his best to let the opposition back into the match, seemingly unable to pick out a teammate with any of his passes from central midfield.
Goalscorer Messi turned creator by sliding a perfectly-weighted ball through for Gonzalo Higuain. The Juventus striker, in for Sergio Aguero tonight, couldn’t quite lift it over Francis Uzoho, who was clattered in the process.
The game’s first yellow card was shown to Leon Balogun after bringing down Angel Di Maria on the break.
The Argentina players were urging the referee to review the tackle because Di Maria was on the edge of the box, but Nigeria did have a player over.
Messi stepped over the ball from the free kick 22 yards out and sent it against the upright. Replays showed that Francis Uzoho got a fingertip to the ball on its way through, so that went down as a terrific save.
Another controversy ensued late in the first half. A deflected ball came into the box, Iheanacho looked to go for it, but Rojo’s high boot cleared it. It was an unorthodox clearance.
Four minutes into the second half, referee Cuneyt Cakir pointed to the spot for a Nigeria penalty Javier Mascherano had a stinker from the corner. The midfielder grabbed hold of Leon Balogun and the spot kick was awarded.
Victor Moses stepped up to take the penalty and rolled it the opposite way that Franco Armani dived.
Banega slide in on his man inside the box but successfully took the ball. Nigeria were the side on top in the minutes since levelling up the contest.
A glorious chance went begging for Higuain. The ball was cut back to the unmarked striker 10 yards from goal, yet he sent it flying well over the bar.
Argentina were all over the place at the back as they threw players forward. Ighalo had another big chance, with this latest one being saved by Armani down low.
With four minutes to go Argentina salvaged their World Cup campaign. What an unbelievable finish this was from Marcos Rojo, as he guided a volley past a crestfallen Uzoho.
The South Americas held on to the slim lead to advance to the second round.