They had good reason to celebrate.
Once again Lionel Messi had put on a World Cup show with two goals, but this time his whole team ― aside from a couple of defensive blunders ― was part of the performance.
In its third straight win, Argentina attacked with more flair than previously and could have scored more goals if it weren’t for some good saves by Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Ahmed Musa kept things interesting by twice erasing Argentina’s lead, before Marcos Rojo kneed in the winner from a corner.
“We played against a team that wanted to play,” Messi said. “I think we saw a good Argentina. We need to continue on this path.”
|Argentina’s Lionel Messi (right) hugs his teammate Javier Mascherano after scoring on Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap)|
Before the match, which saw both teams advance from Group F, Enyeama was the only goalkeeper in the tournament who hadn’t conceded a goal. In Porto Alegre it took just three minutes for Messi to beat him.
The Argentina captain slammed in the rebound after Angel Di Maria’s shot bounced off the post.
Nigeria replied within a minute as Musa cut in from the left and beat Sergio Romero with a curling shot toward the far post.
Then just before halftime Messi stunned Enyeama again, with a long-range free kick that rose over the wall then dipped sharply to slip in just inside the post.
“Messi is from Jupiter, he is different,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
Messi had his best match so far, boosting his tournament total to four goals, and repeatedly cutting up Nigeria’s defense with dazzling runs and clever passes. The game lost intensity when its biggest profile was substituted after the hour-mark.
“At 3-2 with a half-hour left, we needed to let him rest,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said.
The second half started at the same furious pace as the first, with two goals within the first five minutes. First Musa took advantage of confusion in the Argentine defense to score his second. Then Rojo made it 3-2 as he got his right knee on a corner kick three minutes later.
Finding more space to attack, Argentina created more chances than in its previous games against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, but its defense caved in on both of Musa’s goals. Another concern for Argentina: Striker Sergio Aguero was injured in the first half, and replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi.
“Defensively sometimes we have problems,” Sabella said. “We will have to work on that ... because in round of 16 if things go bad you go home.”
Argentina had already secured advancement but needed at least a draw to win the group. Nigeria advanced thanks to Bosnia beating Iran, going through on four points.
Just before the match tragedy struck in Nigeria as an explosion rocked a shopping mall in the capital, Abuja, and police said at least 21 people were killed.
The blast came as Nigerians were preparing to watch the World Cup match but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.
Keshi said he wasn’t aware of the explosion during the match and condemned it.
Tens of thousands of Argentine fans had traveled to Porto Alegre for the match, taunting Brazilian spectators with a song that includes the line “Maradona is greater than Pele.”
France clinches top spot in Group E; Ecuador out
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) ― France’s much-vaunted attack missed a series of chances as it drew 0-0 with 10-man Ecuador to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup on Wednesday, while the South Americans bowed out of the tournament.
France, which ended with seven points, had scored eight goals in two games and 39 in its previous 11. But the finishing on Wednesday lacked sharpness against a spirited Ecuador side which threatened all game on the break.
“I’m proud of what the players have achieved,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We didn’t take our chances, but that takes nothing away from our joy. We had to be vigilant against an Ecuador side that was quick and looked dangerous even with 10 men.”
|(Top) Blood seeps out of the bandage on Ecuador’s Cristhian Noboa’s head after getting injured in the first half. (Bottom) The combo show France’s Olivier Giroud (right) clashing with Ecuador’s Frickson Erazo. (AP-Yonhap)|
Shaqiri’s hat trick puts Swiss into 2nd round
MANAUS, Brazil (AP) ― Xherdan Shaqiri’s hat trick put Switzerland into the second round of the World Cup, and kept coach Ottmar Hitzfeld gainfully employed for at least a few more days.
Shaqiri scored a pair of first-half goals and added another in the second Wednesday to give Switzerland a 3-0 victory over Honduras, a result that put the Swiss in second place in Group E behind France.
“We knew that we were going to show great football today,” said Shaqiri, a Bayern Munich winger. “For us, this has been really a dream to be in the World Cup, small Switzerland in the World Cup.”
Bosnia beats Iran 3-1 in Group F
SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) ― Bosnia-Herzegovina ended Iran’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stages with a 3-1 victory in Group F on Wednesday, registering its first World Cup win in the process.
The Bosnians, who were already relegated from the tournament, took a commanding 2-0 lead with goals from Edin Dzeko in the 23rd and Miralem Pjanic in the 53rd before Iran hit back in a desperate late bid to qualify for the second round.
Reza Ghoochannejhad gave some hope to the Iranians with a tap-in goal in the 81st, but Avdija Vrsaljevic replied immediately with his low shot from the edge of the area to restore the two-goal lead.
Iran needed a win to have any chance of advancing. “Sorry to our opponents, but this was also an important win for us so we could hold our heads up high leaving this tournament,” Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said. “Throughout the match we were those who wanted to win more.”