Nigeria went down 1-0 to Argentina in this afternoon’s FIFA World Cup 2010 Group B encounter between the two sides.
Argentina won from a Gabriel Heinze headed goal from a corner in the 7th minute.
Nigeria could have scored in the first two minutes as Obasi Ogbuke skinned the makeshift right back and blasted a shot that was well wide of the target.
Argentina showed why this game could be as exciting as many anticipated by hitting back with an immediate chance of their own through Messi and Higuain who went very close to scoring from close range. The forward should perhaps have done better after Messi, enjoying lots of space in his free role, had played him in with an excellent ball: a chance from within 6 yards.
Maradona’s strange tactical approach of playing centre backs across his defence looked likely to offer Nigeria hope, however, as Nigeria seemed lively in attack.
Messi brought a wonderful save from Enyeama with a shot that was bound for the top right corner from inside the area.
Argentina scored from the resulting corner, however, as Gabriel Heinze headed unmarked straight into the top corner from the penalty spot. It had taken just 6 minutes for Argentina to get in front.
1-0 to Maradona’s men – Heinze was in a huge amount of space to head home, but his powerful header was well placed in the top corner of the net – eluding even the man at the back post.
Nigeria got a chance on the 10th minute when the ball was stolen from Argentina’s defence, but the resulting low cross was diverted out for a corner.
Shittu had a chance to head from a cross soon after, but Gutierrez did just enough to put off the Nigerian striker.
Obasi Ogbuke had another reasonable chance on 14 minutes from a throw which suggested their fans could expect at least a goal from this game.
Veron played Messi in with an incredible long ball which Enyeama just got to first in goal – Argentina, in the process, managing even to make long ball football look precise.
Messi took another good shot, this time a curling left-footed effort from outside the area, which was saved low to his right by Enyeama in the Nigeria goal.
Enyeama was called into action yet again in the 21st minutes when he had to race out to save one-on-one from Higuain, who should have done better with his effort, such was the space he had found himself in. Tevez had played a delightful ball between defenders to slide in his strike partner.
Another corner produced more danger for Nigeria when Samuel got up for a free header which bounced over the bar on 23 minutes.
Kaita had a decent volley from the edge of the area for Nigeria on 25 minutes as Argentina headed clear from a long throw, but the ball went wide of the target.
Nigeria won a free kick on around 28 metres on 26 minutes, the ball was flicked to Taiwo who drove the ball disappointingly straight into the wall. Straight after, however, the ball was played back in to Obasi who missed a great looking chance from within ten metres, though the angle was admittedly narrow.
Nigeria would have to take one of these chances to hang on to Argentina, however, as the pale blue and white side were looking comfortable on the ball and constantly threatened to add to their tally when they went forwards.
Then followed a period of prolonged possession for Argentina. As the clock ticked past the half hour mark, Argentina were passing the ball across the back four while gently probing up either flank before going back home and starting again. The move eventually ended with an uncharacteristically bad pass from Veron to Heinze.
It wasn’t until 33 minutes that Nigeria got another opportunity to put the ball in the box, as they won a dubious looking free kick on around the half way line. The ball was again half cleared before goalkeeper Romero gathered the second cross in the Argentina box.
Messi produced another wonderful save from Enyeama after playing a one-two from a free kick and hitting a curling left-footed save that was bound for the top left corner of the Nigerian net. The diving top-handed save was the best we had seen in World Cup 2010 to date.
Gutierrez picked up the first yellow card for a professional foul on Obasi Ogbuke, which looked like the only battle Nigeria were consistently winning as the makeshift Argentina right-back was not enjoying his defensive duties.
Messi won a free kick in a dangerous area just outside the left angle of the Nigeria box on 43 minutes.
Veron, Tevez and Messi stood over the ball, but it was Veron who took the free kick. Yet another World Cup 2010 free kick sailed high over the goal as the player failed to apply sufficient dip to his kick. We were still yet to see a well struck direct free kick, let alone a goal from one.
The half ended soon after, with the score at 1-0 to Argentina, who were worth their lead for the penetration they enjoyed in attack, though it was a basic set piece that brought them this lead.
Lars Lagerbeck, the Nigerian coach, would have been upset with the dreadful marking his men showed at this set piece, but the star of the half was Lionel Messi who was given far too much space in his free role. His three efforts on goal were only prevented from bringing a second goal (or third, or fourth) for Argentina by tremendous agile goalkeeping from Enyeama in the Nigerian goal.
Nigeria needed to score from one of their rare chances in the second half if they were to get anything from this match. They would also have to ride their luck, improve their marking of Argentina’s key attacking players, or rely upon another outstanding half of football from their number 1.
The second half, on the evidence of the first, would see more chances, and probably more goals, potentially from either side, though it was Argentina who had threatened with the most obvious goal chances in the first 45.
Nigeria kicked off the second half and started brightly looking to move the ball to the left flank and attack Argentina’s weakest link – Gutierrez at right-back.
Argentina soon worked an opening, however, as ever, the ball moved through Messi, though this time it went, via Tevez, out to the wide right where a dangerous low cross was almost turned home. The ball slid just inches from the far post, beyond even Enyeama’s despairing dive. Nigeria would surely experience more moments like this if they continued to allow Argentina such time and space on the ball.
Argentina worked a corner on 51 minutes from which Samuel had yet another free header, though this time he got well under the ball and it went high over the bar.
Martins came on for Victor Obinna as Nigeria looked to make more impact going forward.
Nigeria knocked a couple of dangerous looking balls across the Argentina box on 55 minutes, but there was nobody there to add the vital header – the second ended with a chance for Argentina who played one long ball from defence to open up Nigeria’s committed defence and win another corner.
The goalkeeper failed to deal well, but, at last, the defence managed to win the set piece and clear.
Nigeria’s Obassi came off for Odemwingie just before the hour mark during a corner following a blocked Lionel Messi shot.
Kaita had a long range effort for Nigeria from the clearance, but his effort from 25 metres was always rising and went well clear of the bar.
Nigeria had another long shot that looked unlikely, but the ball picked up a deflection for a corner on 62 minutes. The ball was well over-hit before a second cross was punched away by Romero.
Messi had a chance to seal the came with 25 minutes remaining after Tevez broke clear following a Nigeria chance and played him in. Messi, on his favourite left foot, just missed from the edge of the area – perhaps trying to put the ball right into the corner rather than going for power.
Enyeama made a great save from Messi straight after before the ball was put straight up the other end where Odemwingie should have done better than his eventual mis-control that went out for a goal kick.
This match was end to end now, with Nigeria looking like they could get a goal, but Argentina always threatening whenever they got possession.
Argentina had another half chance when Higuain had a long range effort charged down to win a corner as the ball looped over the bar. Another corner came straight after.
Messi played a long ball to Veron from the second corner, but Veron’s shot flew wildly over the bar.
Taiwo of Nigeria hit a great shot after Odemwingie once more showed up Gutierrez wide on the left – the ball whistled low past the right hand post from the left-back’s firm shot.
With 20 minutes remaining, Nigeria were still just a goal apart from their illustrious opponents. However, on 73 minutes, Messi won another free kick in a dangerous position just outside the Nigeria area.
Maxi Rodriguez came on for Veron of Argentina, and Nigeria’s Taiwo went off for Uche as Messi lined up the direct free kick.
Messi went for a low-paced curling effort but it was both high and wide.
Nigeria won another corner but the over-hit ball went out for a goal kick to mark another wasted opportunity for the Super Eagles.
Haruna of Nigeria picked up a yellow card for a bad tackle on Lionel Messi in the 77th minute. Argentina were content to pass their free kick and keep possession despite having a chance to put the ball into the box from the resulting free kick.
Martins stung Romero’s hands with a powerful effort from 30 yards after he dropped a shoulder and beat a defender. The striker could perhaps have waited a little longer and worked an even better chance, but it was another warning to Argentina that the points were far from secure.
As the clock ticked past 80 minutes, Argentina seemed content to retain possession, which was perhaps a dangerous tactic as Nigeria were beginning to commit more men forward to hunt out the much needed goal.
Messi had another chance to finish the game, but Enyeama made a remarkable stop one-on-one with the precocious attacking midfielder with his legs.
Uche had a fantastic chance to equalise for Nigeria with an unmarked volley following a delightful cross. Unfortunately for him, he failed to get a good connection and his shot went high and wide.
Argentina wasted another good chance through Milito, who had come on for the disappointing Higuain, as Nigeria still threatened to cause a remarkable upset with 6 minutes remaining with the narrow one goal margin inspiring them to hope.
Argentina brought on a new right back by replacing Di Maria with Burdisso who went into the position Gutierrez had been unconvincingly occupying as the last-named player moved to the left-hand side of midfield, apparently the coach’s on-field talisman.
Yakubu had a half chance from over 25 metres on the turn, but failed to trouble the goalkeeper.
Time was running out for Nigeria, who had just three minutes of normal time to get back on level terms.
Messi won a corner on 90 minutes via a last ditch tackle as the fourth official indicated four minutes of stoppage time.
Argentina controlled possession for most of the additional minutes before the final whistle blew for their first victory of the 2010 World Cup. Argentina had won 1-0.
Nigeria could easily have scored, however, as Argentina’s defence – particularly Gutierrez at right-back – looked considerably weaker than many on display in this tournament.
But for an excellent performance from Enyeama in Nigeria’s goal – the Nigerian stopper was the best player on the pitch bar Messi – Argentina would have won by two or three goals. This match should have finished three or four goals to one, as it was, it was probably as entertaining as a 1-0 victory can be.
Great entertainment, but Nigeria will be disappointed with the goal they did concede: better marking at a set piece would have seen them pick up a vital point against a strong Argentina side.
South Korea showed earlier today just why they might expose any defensive weaknesses Argentina might have, so the match between those sides could be extremely exciting too.
Messi was a class apart today, though, and any team that wants to beat Argentina will have to stop him if they are to prevent the blue and white goal threat.
Argentina lead Group B with South Korea and, based on today’s matches, it looks like those two sides are the teams who will qualify from this tough group. The next match between Argentina and South Korea will be hugely interesting, while Greece showed nothing today to indicate that they have sufficient weapons to outgun, or even to stop either Nigeria or Argentina.
Nigeria must win both of their remaining games to stand any realistic chance of progressing from this group.
Both Argentina and Nigeria will be hoping Maradona’s men can defeat South Korea on 17th June.