Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's World Cup Game with Nigeria
With six and four points, respectively, Argentina and Nigeria are currently in the driving seat to qualify from Group F of the 2014 World Cup. For the Albiceleste, even though they have booked their second round place, a positive result is still vital.
It is important not just to secure first place in the group. After narrow wins against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, Alejandro Sabella's men need to show their full attacking potential to silence doubters and send the team into the knockouts in the highest of spirits.
But they will not have it easy against a Super Eagles that are the only nation yet to concede a goal in Brazil. Nigeria are also on form, and the following matchups on the pitch in Porto Alegre will be key to picking a winner in Wednesday's clash.
Efe Ambrose vs. Angel Di Maria
After his heroics in the Champions League final to help Real Madrid reach the fabled Decima, Angel Di Maria has endured a disappointing start to his World Cup campaign. Even so, the Argentina star is the most daunting challenge yet for the man charged with checking his movements on the left-hand side of the pitch.
Efe Ambrose starred in Nigeria and Israel before landing in the Scottish Premier Division with Celtic. But the right-back has arguably never faced an opponent of Di Maria's quality. With Peter Odemwingie ahead focused on attack, a super-human performance might be necessary to keep Fideo quiet over 90 minutes.
Emmanuel Emenike vs. Sergio Romero
As Nigeria's lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 setup, Fenerbahce forward Emmanuel Emenike is entrusted with doing the hard work in the opposition final third and carving out openings. A few slip-ups in the Argentine defence so far will encourage him; the form of goalkeeper Sergio Romero, less so.
After a season where he received little playing time as Monaco's back-up, Chiquito has made an excellent start to the World Cup, conceding just once in two games. A pair of fantastic stops as Iran threatened on the counter-attack prevented a shocking reverse for the Albiceleste in the last game.
Can Emenike find a way past the imposing keeper? Or will Romero's impressive displays continue through to the knockout stages?
John Obi Mikel vs. Javier Mascherano
With both sides giving away little at the moment, Argentina's encounter with Nigeria could well be decided by the physical battle in the middle of the pitch. And at this early stage, there is very little to separate Javier Mascherano from Super Eagles adversary John Obi Mikel.
Both are consummate competitors, determined in their quest for the ball and not afraid to take a bit of their man in the process. But Masche and Mikel's ability on the ground should not be underestimated; the pair are excellent ball-players, and the keys to driving their team-mates forward.
Marcos Rojo vs. Peter Odemwingie
Even though Bosnia and Iran came out first and foremost to defend against the Albiceleste, some defensive frailties could still be detected amongst the South Americans. When they take on the more enterprising Super Eagles, Argentina must show an increased strength at the back.
Sporting star Marcos Rojo has surprised some in the opening games with two solid displays, with plenty of projection up the left wing from full-back. But in the shape of Peter Odemwingie, Rojo faces a formidable opponent.
Fast, direct and experienced, the Stoke player scored Nigeria's winning goal to unlock Bosnia and would love to do the same against Sabella's men. It is up to Rojo to keep him quiet, without sacrificing his runs up the flank.
Lionel Messi vs. Vincent Enyeama
Twice in the current World Cup, a disappointing Argentina side has needed a slice of inspiration to get past tough rivals. And twice, one Lionel Messi has appeared from nowhere to give his team a push toward victory, scoring a pair of wonderful goals in the process.
But even though it was four years ago, it is unlikely that La Pulga has forgotten about his rival in the opposition net for Wednesday.
Vincent Enyeama frustrated the Barcelona star and Argentine time and again in a 1-0 defeat, and he was named man of the match thanks to a string of brilliant saves. The Lille keeper has picked up where he left off with two clean sheets, and he could prove a formidable foe between the Nigeria posts.
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