Argentina and Lionel Messi Scrape Into World Cup's Last 16
From the brink of a humiliating World Cup exit, to a sensational late win. Argentina lives on at Russia 2018.
Drawing 1-1 with Nigeria with merely minutes remaining, the Argentines were heading out of the tournament and the Super Eagles were set to progress to the last 16.
But an incredible 86th-minute winner from defender Marcos Rojo earned Argentina a 2-1 victory which put Lionel Messi and co through to the knockout stages at the expense of their opponents and set up a last-16 encounter with France.
It was another thrilling finale at a World Cup which has provided much drama.
Messi was in inspired form in the opening 45 minutes and put his team ahead with a well-taken strike into the far corner, his first goal of the tournament and the 100th scored at this World Cup.
Yet it seemed as if the Barcelona star would feature no more in this competition when a Victor Moses penalty leveled for the Super Eagles.
Nigeria only needed a draw to reach the last 16 and Javier Mascherano looked to have assisted the Nigerians in their quest as it was his foul on Leon Balogun that led to Moses’ 51st-minute spot kick.
But in the dying minutes Rojo arrowed a first-time shot into the bottom corner for the final twist in an enthralling match.
It was an exquisite finish from a Gabriel Mercado cross and the most important of the Manchester United player’s three goals for his country. Messi jumped on Rojo’s shoulders as Argentina wildly celebrated a late reprieve.
Argentina’s fans in the St Petersburg Stadium’s bleachers celebrated equally ecstatically, notably football legend Diego Maradona who directed a middle-finger salute — with both hands — at hecklers below where he was sitting.
The Nigerians were left to wonder what might have been had they been more ruthless in goal. In the 75th minute Odion Ighalo in particular squandered a chance to put his team ahead and leave Argentina with a mountain to climb.
Nigeria claimed Rojo had handled the ball in the build up to Ingalo’s effort, but even after a VAR review the referee did not think the incident was a penalty.
Wilfred Ndidi also went close from distance, but ultimately Nigeria went on to suffer a fifth World Cup defeat to Argentina.
Related:VAR: The Tech That Will Eliminate Human Error at the World Cup