When the Super Eagles of Nigeria file out in the Krestovsky stadium, Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, June 26, they will be hoping to be fifth time lucky against a nation that has always tormented them at the World Cup, Argentina.
Argentina have never previously gone through a first-round World Cup group stage without at least one victory before. Korea/Japan 2002 was the last time they crashed out of the group stages at the World Cup with their only victory in the tournament coming against Nigeria. Both nations will be battling it out for a last-16 spot at the World Cup and a second place finish in Group D behind group winners Croatia.
In 2014, both teams met at the World Cup as star man Lionel Messi scored twice in 3-2 win over Nigeria which secured a top spot finish for Argentina in group F as the Super Eagles qualified in second place.That was Nigeria’s fourth defeat against the South Americans having lost in 1994, 2002, and 2010. However, Nigeria’s hope rest largely on one man who has always scored every time he is on same pitch with Lionel Messi, his name Ahmed Musa.The 25-year-old has scored against Messi the two times he has faced the Barcelona star. He scored both goals in Nigeria’s group stage 3-2 defeat to Argentina in Porto Alegre, Brazil, four years ago and another brace for Leicester City against Barcelona in a friendly game in August 2016.His brace against Iceland makes him Nigeria’s highest goal scorer at the World Cup with four goals.
But Argentina’s coach, Jorge Sampaoli, who is facing the heat following his side’s poor form at the mundial has vowed that fans will see the best of Argentina in this clash.”We have to make our goal five games to reach the final. Tomorrow will be the first final,” he said. He added: “No matter who plays tomorrow will have the obligation to give until the last bead of sweat so that Argentina will go through. “We don’t have any alternative and I am sure this is how it will go. Tomorrow, I am sure that they will see the best version of Argentina at this World Cup.”On his part, Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr is ready to end Lionel Messi international career with a defeat, amid reports that this might be the 31-year-old last World Cup.”We love this great player, Messi, everybody loves him,” he said. He added: “The question is not if it is the last World Cup for him or not, the question is for us to be qualified.”We are not here to watch him play. We are here to make a result, we are professionals. We are here to defend the colours of Nigeria and we know in football there is no mercy, no pity, everybody wants to win and we cannot make any gifts even if we like very much this player.”If Argentina beat Nigeria and Croatia beat Iceland, Argentina go through. They will also go through if they beat Nigeria convincingly and Iceland can only manage a slim victory against Croatia. While Nigeria will go through if they beat Argentina or get a draw with Iceland failing to beat Croatia.Potential Argentina XI: Caballero; Salvio, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico; Mascherano, Perez; Di Maria, Messi, Dybala; Higuain.READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia beat Egypt 2-1 in last Group A encounter at Volgograd ArenaPotential Nigeria XI: Uzoho; Omeruo, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Ebuehi; Mikel, Ndidi; Moses, Etebo, Musa; Iheanacho. Venue: Krestovsky Stadium in Saint PetersburgTime: 7pm (Nigerian time)Head to Head: Big games between Argentina and NigeriaJune 25 1994: Nigeria 1 Argentina 2 – Boston, USA (FIFA World Cup)Jan 10 1995: Argentina 0 Nigeria 0 – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (FIFA Confederations Cup)Aug 3 1996: Nigeria 3 Argentina 2 – Georgia, USA (Olympics Final)June 2 2002: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0 – Ibaraki, Japan (FIFA World Cup)July 2 2005: Nigeria 1 Argentina 2 – Utrecht, Netherlands (FIFA U20 World Cup Final)August 23 2008: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0 – Beijing, China (Olympics Final)June 12 2010: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0 – Jo’burg, South Africa (FIFA World Cup)June 1 2011: Nigeria 4 Argentina 1 – Abuja, Nigeria (Friendly)September 6 2011: Argentina 3 Nigeria 1 – Dhaka, Bangladesh (Friendly)June 25 2014: Nigeria 2 Argentina 3 – Porto Alegre, Brazil (FIFA World Cup)November 14 2017: Argentina 2 Nigeria 4 – Krasnodar, Russia (Friendly).
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