The history between Nigeria and Argentina is not a rosy one for the West Africans at the World Cup. Nigeria have never won against Argentina at a World Cup match, and this repeated itself when Argentina edged Nigeria 2-1 to book a place in the round of 16 at the expense of Nigeria, left to nurse their wounds.
All that Nigeria needed was a draw in order to progress to the Round of 16. A defeat for Argentina would be welcome, but only a draw would suffice. Nigeria were armed with faith, hope and bravery, ready to take on Argentina and inflict pain on their main star, Lionel Messi. But this was not to be. In a thrilling match that incessantly kept one on the edge, Nigeria were to be struck by misfortune in their quest to reach the Round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup.
Argentina have played unimpressive football so far in the World Cup, opening with a draw to Iceland and a loss to Croatia. Their match against Nigeria was also punctuated with long spells of lacklustre performances. Argentina were on the verge of an humiliating group stage exit. A clinical, well-crafted strike by Lionel Messi earlier in the first half had given Argentina loads of confidence, and although Nigeria held on, they seemed shattered by that Messi goal.
The second half resumed with Argentina putting up a weak show, and Nigeria were able to find spaces in their defence area. This eventually led to Argentina conceding a penalty, which was easily and calmly converted into the net by Victor Moses, who plies his club football trade with London club Chelsea FC. From then, Nigeria held on stoically and spiritedly to the 1-1 scoreline, frustrating the Argentinian mid and strike force that was failing to break through Nigeria’s solid defending.
Nigeria were pretty much wasteful with their opportunities, particularly Ighalo. As the game was coming to an end, and Argentina’s hopes of progressing gradually fading away painfully, Nigeria’s defence had seemed ragged and a tad weary. This was a perfect opportunity for Argentina to inflict damage on the optimistic Nigerians. Rojo surged into the area to place a cross by Gabriel Mercado wonderfully in the net. And that was the end for Nigeria. The disappointment was already nailed on the faces of the Nigerian players. They were probably asking themselves, “what went wrong, please?”
Late-minute drama obviously earned Argentina a much-needed win, but in all fairness, Argentina did not deserve to grab a win. Argentina will now face Group C winners France in the last 16 in Kazan on Saturday. “We did everything possible, but it just wasn’t to be,” said John Obi Mikel, who is Nigeria’s captain. Nigeria fought so gallantly, they were close to make Argentina go home – a first for Argentina to crash out of the group stages – but it wasn’t to be, it’s now tears, devastation and pain.
Focus now shifts to Senegal, as they will have to go past Colombia to secure a place in the Round of 16 safely. But as for Nigeria, it’s a dream crushed. They were so close, yet nowhere near glory.