A late goal by Marcos Rojo (pictured) helped Argentina beat Nigeria 2-1 and advance into the final 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday.
After drawing with Iceland and losing to Croatia in the earlier Group D matches, Argentina were looking for a win which seemed impossible until the 87th minute when Rojo scored a spectacular goal.
Nigerians were strong in their defence and they did not give Argentina an opportunity to break it. Their forwards almost came to scoring on a couple of occasions in the second half.
Argentina scored their first goal in the 14th minute through Messi. He watched an Ever Banega pass coming over his shoulder in the run, took it on his left thigh, allowed the ball to drop and sent a powerful shot from 10 yards past Nigerian keeper Francis Uzoho to make it 1-0. Messi made amends for the penalty he missed against Iceland in the opener.
He almost came to scoring again but his 20-yard free-kick hit the post. He then created an opening for Gonzalo Higuain who failed to lob over keeper Uzoho.
The first goal left Nigeria confused for the rest of the first half. They could not find the rhythm that helped them beat Iceland 2-0.
In the second half, Nigerians were awarded a penalty in the 51st minute after their defender Leon Balogun was brought down by Argentina’s midfielder Javier Alejandro Mascherano during a corner. Victor Moses sent goalkeeper Franco Armani the other way to level the game.
Inspired by the goal, Nigeria began to attack and both sides looked like finishing off the other. But the all-important goal eluded them.
Mascherano almost gifted Nigeria the second penalty as he headed the ball on to his own hand and then Nigeria’s Ighalo shot it wide. After Ighalo said Mascherano handled the ball, Spanish referee Antonio Mateu consulted VAR and ruled it was involuntary.
In the 87th minute, Rojo collected Gabriel Mercado’s pinpointed cross and volleyed it home from 12 yards to the delight of thousands of Argentina’s supporters gathered in St Petersburg.
Argentina will play France in Kazan on Saturday while Croatia will play Denmark on Sunday.