Messi 'from Jupiter'; Argentina set for World Cup glory
Nigeria coach says Messi is from another planet as Argentina make it three out of three
Nigeria 2 Argentina 3. Two goals from Lionel Messi helped Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 in the final game of Group F but the Africans are still through to the Last 16. Iran needed a thumping win against Bosnia if they were to sneak in ahead of Nigeria but their 3-1 defeat meant they finished bottom of the group.
There were 50 frenetic minutes in Porto Alegre as Argentina maintained their 100 percent record in the tournament, starting with Messi's opening goal after just three minutes, a powerful finish after Angel Di Maria hit the post. Ahmed Musa equalised 80 seconds later for Nigeria but Messi re-established Argentina's lead on the stroke of half-time with a sublime 25-yard free-kick.
Musa once again levelled for Nigeria shortly after the re-start (and became the first Nigerian to score two goals in a World Cup match) but Argentine left-back Marcos Rojo made it 3-2 to the South Americans on 50 minutes when he used his knee to turn home the ball from a corner.
"Messi is one of heck of a player, he's blessed," said Nigeria coach Stephen Kesh. "There are good calibre players in the team but Messi is from Jupiter."
Nigeria's reward for qualification is a Last 16 tie against France in Brasilia next Monday. The French drew their final Group E game 0-0 against Ecuador, who had captain Antonio Valencia sent off, and Nigeria might well fancy their chances against a side that has yet to play any serious opposition in the tournament.
In the other Group E game Switzerland – thrashed 5-2 by France last week – enjoyed a romp of their own as they demolished Honduras 3-0. Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri scored all the Swiss goals and they now face Argentina in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.
Messi and his teammates will be strong favourites to win as the Barcelona striker is in a rich vein of form in Brazil. Having netted just once in his first eight World Cup appearances, a record almost as bad as Wayne Rooney's, the 27-year-old Messi has scored four goals in Argentina's three group games, and he is level with Neymar in the race for the Golden Boot.
"Being able to watch him from the back is such a fantastic experience," said Rojo of his fellow goal-scorer. "Now a whole new competition begins. There's no longer any margin for error. We either win or go home. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best part of the tournament."
Ominously for their rivals, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella believes his side have yet to hit their straps in the tournament, telling reporters: "As we advance we start improving our structure, in general I saw improvement today. We've got nine points, but we can always get better."