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FIFA World Cup: Argentina edge past Nigeria despite misfiring Messi

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diego_maradona.jpgDiego Maradona's Argentina edged out a lackluster Nigeria 1-0 to fashion a comfortable opening victory, and though Lionel Messi should have made the scoreline look much more lopsided, Argentine fans would go home satisfied with their side in a strong position in the race for the knockouts. Though a swift start gave Argentina the lead in as early as the sixth minute, with Gabriel Heinze scoring off a corner, they failed to maintain the tempo for the rest of the game, with a host of chances going begging.

The mercurial Diego Maradona, expected to lay out a 4-4-2, tweaked with his side one final time before the action began as he went with a 4-2-3-1 which meant Carlos Tevez joined Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain upfront. Maradona showed a lot of confidence on the midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Juan Sebastian Veron while doing this, as the duo were left by themselves to man the midfield with little support tracking back done by the top four. Lars Lagerback meanwhile, went ahead with his trusted 4-3-3 combine with Haruna Lukman entrusted the responsibilities of replacing the injured John Obi Mikel, which meant the youngster came face to face with the marauding Argentine frontline pretty much on his own.

All eyes were on wonder boy Messi as the game got underway and the Barcelona star didn't disappoint by quickly imposing himself on the game. Though Nigeria created the first real chance of the game, it was through Messi that Argentina clearly won the opening exchanges. Messi ran at the Nigerian defense in as early as the first 40 seconds; then split open the defense with a brilliant run minutes later, only for Higuain to produce a terrible miss. A minute later, Messi once again produced a goal-bound shot from outside the box, this time for Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to push it over the bar.

Argentina got the reward from the resulting corner though, with Gabriel Heinze throwing himself at Veron's corner kick. Heinze's unmarked header from near the penalty spot was powerful enough to go past the defender on the line, and in turn spark off wild celebrations on the Argentina bench. What followed the goal though was an inexplicable fall in the tempo of the game, and though both sides created chances, the lack of quality in the final third meant no more goals.

messi.jpgThe Argentine defence almost matched the low standards of their Nigerian counterparts in the rest of the first half, as Nigeria created multiple opportunities to equalize. The best of them fell to Obasi Ogbuke in the 28th minute and he should have honestly done much better with the amount of space available to him. Late in the first half, Messi combined brilliantly with Mascherano and his shot, after a one-two from a freekick, would have almost crashed into the back of the net had it not been for another awesome save from Enyeama.

The last five minutes of the first half so some more jostling as Jonas Gutierrez became the first player to be yellow-carded in the game thanks to a wild challenge on Obasi. Minutes later, Messi was clattered to the floor, only for Veron to take a wasteful freekick.

Though it was Nigeria who got the second half underway, it was once again all Argentina in a matter of a few minutes. It was Messi once again, who created two clear chances early in the half, and should have scored off atleast one, if not both. The first came from a lovely cross from Veron, and an equally beautiful flick from Messi went only inches wide, to the despair of the Argentine bench. The second opportunity came off a counter-attack, and with four Argentine front-men finding themselves with only two Nigerians to tackle with, Tevez passed the ball to Messi. A curling shot was what he could produce this time around, with the ball again going only inches wide.

Peter Odemwingie meanwhile, had come on for Nigeria as they too managed to create some real good opportunities. Odemwingie was the creator of one of the best chances of the game for Nigeria when his pass to Taiwo almost ended up in goal in the 70th minute. The left-backs shot floated only inches away from Sergio Romero and the goal, as the Nigerians searched for the elusive equalizer.

Maradona introduced Maxi Rodriguez and Diego Milito late in the game even as Messi kept spurning the chances he created, with Nigeria ever threatening to score the equalizer. Messi's seventh and last real chance of scoring came in the 81st minute, when he found himself with only Enyeama to beat, only for the Nigerian goalie to pull off a very satisfying save.

Kalu Uche should have equalized a minute later from Yakubu's cross, be he could only hit over the bar from 8 yards out, as Nigeria inched closer to a very demoralizing loss. With the ball sticking to their feet like glue, Argentina had no problems whatsoever in playing out the 4-minute injury period and thereby register their opening win of the tournament.

Messi's failure to find the back of the net despite creating a plethora of chances puts more pressure on the youngster, who has thus far excelled at club level, but flattered to deceive on the international stage. His fans though will be quick to point out that he is too good a player to keep missing such gilt-edged chances, and due credit needs to be given to the Super Vincent Enyeama, who produced a scrap book worthy performance on the day.

The win puts Argentina second in the Group behind South Korea, who beat Greece earlier in the day. The two teams meet each other next, on Thursday the 17th of June. Nigeria play Greece on the same day, and though the Greeks would be comparitively easier to put away, the ‘Super Eagles' would need to fare much better in the final third.

Teams:

Argentina: Romero, Samuel, Demichelis, Heinze, Gutierrez, Mascherano, Veron (Rodriguez 74'), Higuain (Milito 79'), Messi, Di Maria (Burdisso 85'), Tevez.

Nigeria: Enyeama, Shittu, Yobo, Taiwo (Uche 74'), Odiah, Haruna, Kaita, Etuhu, Ogbuke (Odemwingie 60'), Yakubu, Obinna (Martins 52')

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria
Gabriel Heinze (Argentina) 6'

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Also Read:

South Korea 2 - 0 Greece Match Report

Argentina vs. South Korea Preview

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (Maradona)

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