The Super Eagles of Nigeria arrived in Porto Alegre knowing that a point against the talented Albiceleste side led by the mercurial and phenomenal Lionel Messi was all they needed to qualify for the round of 16. If anyone expected a boring game and thought that both sides were going to settle for a draw, it took only three minutes to banish that thought as Lionel Messi left footed shot beat Vincent Enyeama for the first goal of the game. The Estadio Beira -Rio erupted into wild celebration by the Argentine fans.
The celebration of the first goal had hardly died down – precisely 80 seconds afterwards, Ahmed Musa having received a lovely pass from Michael Babatunde with his favorite right foot just before Pablo Zabeleta could close him down, unleashed a right footed shot from the left side of the box straight into the bottom right corner to level the scores at 1-1. Like they say in football, it was game on! What an instant response. Argentina stunned!
The Argentines parading the likes of Kun Aguero, Gonzalo Higuian, Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi in the starting eleven certainly had enough firepower to take on the Super Eagles. Truth be told, the Nigerian defence led by Joseph Yobo ( who was making his 99th cap for the senior side) partnered by Kenneth Omeruo in central defence certainly did not look overawed and played without fear.
As the game progressed the Argentines dominated proceeding and having a greater percentage of possession, looked more likely to score the next goal. The Nigerian side decided to contain them and resulted to counter on the break. Just at the stroke of half time, Lionel Messi was fouled at the edge of the box by Kenneth Omuero. From 25-yard out, Messi free kick left Enyeama wrong footed and Argentina was back in the lead. What a goal! Messi with a brace taking his tally to four goals in three matches.
Within two minutes of resumption for the second half, Emenike slotted a beautiful ball to Ahmed Musa and again with his right foot curled a shot from the center of the box to the bottom left corner. Nigeria had levelled up again 2-2. Well what Messi can do Musa too can! The Super Eagles were giving as good as they got. Argentine Coach Alejandro Sabella looked worried on the touch line. Keshi “The Big Boss” was calm and nodded in admiration how quickly his side had responded after the break.
Argentina was not going to sit back and allow Nigeria to take the initiative. They started pressing again with Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi leading the charge and Messi orchestrating things from the middle. Enyeama had made some good saves to keep the Argentines at bay. In the 50th minute, Marcos Rojo from a corner not dealt with by the Nigerian back line, Marcos Rojo right footed shot from close range to the top right corner put the Albiceleste in the lead again. Enyeama was furious with his defence and could not hide his frustration on the goal.
With Messi substituted in the second half, the Argentine attack had Higuain as the top striker with Lavezzi supporting. The Nigerian defence was standing toe to toe but not without yellow cards to Kenneth Omuero and Juwon Oshinawa. Ahmed Musa had an opportunity to level score at 3-3 but a world class block by Javier Mascherano denied him a hat trick.
The last few minutes of the game had both sides having a go at each other with the game ending with the same frenzy manner it started, but this time without the goals. The match ended 3-2 in favour of Argentina but certainly the Super Eagles had given a good account of themselves. With Bosnia-Herzergovina defeating Iran 3-1 in Salvador, the Super Eagles finished as group F runners – up to set up a date with the ‘Les Blues’ Didier Deschamps tutored French side on June 30.
No matter how you look at it, Stephen Keshi “The Big Boss” achieved another first – being the first indigenous coach to lead the Super Eagles to the second round of a World Cup (the third time for Nigeria) a feat only achieved by Clemens Westerhof in 1994 and Bora Milutinovic in 1998.
Can Keshi go a step further and qualify Nigeria for the quarter final to equal Cameroon and Ghana’s record? Will he make Brazil 2014 Nigeria’s best World Cup outing? Can the Super Eagles send the rejuvenated French side out of the World Cup? These and many questions are begging for answers. One thing is sure though, on their day the Super Eagles can beat any side. The French are a good side but they are beatable. Keshi’s tutored Super Eagles do have a date with destiny in Brasilia come June 30.
By Bimboh Adekoya. You can follow me on twitter @Bimboh5