Argentina went into their match vs Nigeria knowing that nothing less than a win was going to help them get into the knockout stages of FIFA World Cup. Messi’s goal gave them the lead and they went into the break with everything in their favour.
However, a clumsy foul by Mascherano early in the 2nd half gave Nigeria a penalty. Chelsea’s Victor Moses stepped up and scored with ease. It was back to square one for the South American side.
Nigeria were in the driver’s seat now as they knew that a draw was enough for them to go through. They were sitting back and waiting for the counter, knowing that their attackers had the pace to run past the Argentine defenders with ease.
It looked like it was going to be yet another embarrassing night for Argentine when Higuain missed a chance late in the 2nd half but the 2 time World champions were saved by an unlikely hero.
Gabriel Mercado put in a delicious cross and Marcos Rojo slotted it into the bottom corner with a volley! The crazy end to the game put Argentina into the next round and sent Nigeria home.
Here are three reasons why Argentina won:
#3 Change in formation of the team
Jorge Sampaoli was questioned a lot by the vociferous fans for the side’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Croatia. The former Sevilla manager had a lot to do before the game and putting out the right team was the main thing.
Going in with a 4-3-3 formation, Sampaoli decided to drop Willy Caballero, Sergio Aguero, Maximiliano Meza, Marcos Acuna and Eduardo Salvio. In their place, Franco Armani, Gonzalo Higuain, Marcos Rojo, Ever Banega and Angel di Maria started.
The changes were brilliant and it was shown on the pitch from the start. They were giving the Nigerian defenders a tough time and Messi was playing at his best. There was nothing the African side could do in the first half and if it wasn’t for the penalty, they might not have managed to score at all.
#2 Ever Banega – The Engine
Starting Ever Banega in the midfield with Mascherano was the best decision Sampoli has taken in this World Cup. The Sevilla star was running the show in the midfield and the added boost was helping the attackers a lot.
He was finding Messi, Higuain and Di Maria with his chipped through balls and defence-splitting passes with ease – something that was missing in both the previous games. His brilliant ball to Messi over the Nigerian defence turned into an assist as the Barcelona star gave them the lead.
He was contributing defensively as well and making some crunch tackles. The one sliding tackle he made on Ahmed Musa inside the penalty box will be remembered by the Argentine fans forever because if it wasn’t for that, Nigeria might have taken the lead.
#1 Javier Mascherano – The Warrior
Punched. Kicked. Scratched. Wounded. Javier Mascherano was bleeding from his right cheek for the majority of the second half. It was surprising to see the referee not asking him to go off the pitch and get it cleaned and covered.
Despite all that, Mascherano was on top of his game. He was everywhere for Argentina and was the commander-in-chief on the pitch. From aligning the defence to shouting at his players to go wide, he was playing the captain’s role with the armband.
The warrior was up and down the pitch during the second half and was dominating the midfield. Without his work, Ever Banega wouldn’t have had the freedom he got and nor would have Argentina dominated the game.