By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 this afternoon at the Estádio Beira-Rio to finish top of World Cup Group F with a hundred percent record. Lionel Messi put in a majestic performance, scoring twice to draw level with Neymar at the top of the tournament’s scoring chart with four goals apiece.
After scoring the winners in Argentina’s last two outings, the 27-year-old got the ball rolling here before being substituted midway through the second half. On this evidence it was hard to fathom why.
Despite Messi’s brilliance going forward there were defensive weaknesses that Nigeria managed to expose. That will be of concern to coach Alejandro Sabella as his side enter the knock-out stages. Inspired by the thousands of Argentines in the crowd, Messi gave them the lead after only three minutes. Angel di Maria ran to Fernando Gago’s perfectly weighted pass to shoot at goal.
Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama managed to tip the effort onto the post, but there was Messi to smash home the rebound. It took Nigeria less than a minute to draw level. Michael Babatunde sent Ahmed Musa away, who was allowed to cut inside far too easily before curling a delicious effort inside Sergio Romero’s far post.
On 37 minutes, Argentina’s problems were made worse when striker Sergio Aguero was forced to withdraw with what looked like a hamstring injury. Messi then went close with a free-kick that Enyeama did well to tip away. With the next one he would be not so lucky, Messi finding the top corner of the net to give Argentina a 2-1 half-time lead.
Nigeria’s response in the second half was almost instant. Musa again was the goalscorer for the Africans, less than three minutes after the restart after finding ample space in the middle of the Argentine defense.
Yet this time Argentina had the quickfire reply. Ezequiel Lavezz whipped in a corner and Rojo found space to deflect the ball high into the goal off his right knee. Argentina finished top of the group, and Nigeria went through as runners-up with four points from their three matches.
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