Lionel Messi’s two-goal performance against Nigeria has drawn plaudits – and he is confident that Argentina are improving all the time and could win the World Cup.
Messi scored twice as Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 in another wonderful World Cup match on Wednesday but both teams advanced to the second round after Iran lost to Bosnia in the other Group F game.
In an explosive start, Messi lashed in a rebound after three minutes but Nigeria equalised a minute later thanks to a superb finish by Ahmed Musa, only for Messi to curl in a brilliant 20-metre free kick for his fourth of the tournament in first-half stoppage time.
Musa levelled again with a clever finish two minutes after the restart but Argentina, who were assured of qualification before kickoff, got a fortunate third eight minutes later when a corner bounced in off the knee ofMarcos Rojo.
Argentina finished on nine points from their three wins and will play Group E runners-up Switzerland. Nigeria were second on four points and face the Group E winners, France.
WHAT MESSI SAID
“We were better in this game, regardless of the goals we conceded. We were more threatening today, found the spaces to exploit and had more chances to score. But we still want more. The good thing is we improved and it’s a wonderful experience with the people here. We’re all still chasing a shared dream.”
Messi’s words are modest, distracting from his own superlative performance against Nigeria, and those two brilliantly-taken goals. His positivity and emphasis on the team ethic will doubtless be encouraging to his team-mates, but it won’t stop the murmurs from outside that Argentina are a one-man team. Nigeria were challenging all the way, and it’s a fair question to ask whether or not Argentina might have managed to sneak that 3-2 win without the individual brilliance of Messi to help them through.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Argentina have crushed the opposition in Group F, winning all three games. One might expect the knock-out stage to be a much bigger challenge. They face Switzerland on Tuesday in their last-16 tie – and, should they get past them, their quarter-final opponent will be Belgium, Germany or USA. Argentina will doubtless be confident they have what it takes to beat all of them…providing the greatest player in the world stays fit, of course.
WHAT THE MEDIA SAID
Miguel Delaney, for Eurosport-Yahoo: “The 27-year-old’s two sublime goals put him up to four for this World Cup as a whole, making him the current top scorer along with Neymar. That duel with the Brazilian would appear symbolic enough in itself, except he faces personal challenges of even greater significance. Messi is now within one goal of the five that Diego Maradona struck in 1986.”