By DAN KARELL
It took until the final match of the group stage for Argentina’s attack to come to life, but it was sure a joy to watch.
Lionel Messi scored two first-half goals and defender Marcos Rojo deflected home the game winner in the second half as Argentina completed a perfect group stage run with a 3-2 victory over Nigeria at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre. Ahmed Musa scored twice for Nigeria in the defeat.
Due to the Bosnia and Herzegovina win over Iran, Nigeria moved into the knockout round despite losing to Argentina.
Messi got the match off to a flying start in the third minute when he slammed home a loose ball in the box. Javier Mascherano played a great ball to Angel Di Maria on the left wing. Di Maria fired a low strike on goal that hit off the post and Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama twice before popping back out into the middle of the box.
With Nigerian defenders ball watching, Messi ran into the scene and fired home to give Argentina the early lead.
Musa hit back just 80 seconds later for Nigeria when he took a pass from Michel Babatunde on the left side, turned Argentina right back Pablo Zabaleta around, and curled home a beautiful strike past the dive of Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
The Argentine wonder Messi gave Argentina the lead again in first-half stoppage time in spectular fashion. Messi curled a 25-yard free kick over the wall and under the bar, totally flummoxing Enyeama.
Just two minutes into the second half, Musa tied the match up for Nigeria again. Forward Emmanuel Emenike held the ball up and Musa ran into the space conceded by the Argentine defense through the middle of the field. Musa took one touch, hesitated to put off Romero, and scored easily.
Argentina answered just three minutes later. Off a corner kick taken by substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi, Rojo arrived at the 6-yard box and deflected the corner kick home off his right knee, giving Argentina the 3-2 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Messi was substituted in the 63rd minute to rest him ahead of Argentina’s next match, which will be against the runners-up of Group E. Nigeria lost Babatunde in the 66th minute to what looked like a broken arm. The midfielder was forced off after taking a shot from close range by his own teammate Ogenyi Onazi.
Think Argentina is starting to look like a legitimate contender? Can Nigeria make some noise despite backing in to the knockout rounds?
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