Argentina round off their Group F campaign against Nigeria in Porto Alegre, with Alejandro Sabella’s side looking to keep their momentum going ahead of the round of 16.
With their place already confirmed in the knockout stage, Argentina now just have a 100 per cent record to keep intact, though their opponents have a different agenda.
Currently holding on to second place in Group F, a draw will see Nigeria through with Argentina, but anything else opens the door to Iran.
Venue: Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Date: Wednesday, June 25
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1/ESPN (U.S.)
Lionel Messi Finding his Feet on Big Stage
As Argentina star Lionel Messi didn’t score his usual 50 goals in La Liga last season, naturally, the criticism came flooding in.
There were people calling him a striker in crisis, a man that’s on the way out of his prime—but they’ve all been silenced.
His two goals in as many games have been nothing short of sensational, doubling his World Cup tally and adding to his phenomenal, recent, international record in the process—per OptaJoe:
8 - Lionel Messi has scored eight goals in his last seven appearances for #ARG. Heartbreaker.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 21, 2014
However, Messi aside, Argentina have been rather unconvincing and were it not for the Barcelona star’s brilliance, they’d be in a spot of bother in Group F.
The man himself also said that his nation are yet to find top gear, but he believes that they will peak at the right time—per FIFA.com:
If we analyse both matches we might say we can play better but as we progress in the tournament we will improve and reach our full potential. We know we are not playing as well as we are expected. But we have qualified for the next round and that was our first objective. We have to correct our mistakes and we are the first to realise that we aren't playing at the level we want to. We were at least able to get the three points which means we don't have to suffer in the last match.
Luckily for the out-of-sorts Argentina, having an in-form Messi in your setup is absolutely invaluable, and he’s earned every plaudit so far—including a rather interesting one from Gary Lineker:
Those who stayed awake to watch Messi's goal. F**king great decision!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 15, 2014
Lineker’s right, though, Messi’s goals have been absolutely magnificent and the Nigeria defence could be in for a long night on Wednesday.
However, the Super Eagles are the only team in the World Cup not to have conceded a goal, as Squawka Football revealed:
Nigeria are the only team at the World Cup NOT to have conceded a goal yet. They face Argentina next. Best of luck... pic.twitter.com/E3RX9nPrgX— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 23, 2014
Though they had a slow start against Iran, they showed exactly why they’re the champions of Africa during their 1-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
With a solid defensive display and a bit of guile going forward, the Nigerians put one foot in the knockout stage, though it could all go wrong so quickly.
If they fail to take at least a point from Argentina and Iran find a way past Bosnia in the group’s other match, though, then the Iranians will progress.
It means that Stephen Keshi will likely set his side out to do everything in their power to avoid defeat, so expect an onslaught of Argentina pressure in Porto Alegre.
Though the Super Eagles will sit behind the ball in an attempt to keep Messi and Co. out, Argentina’s personnel have enough about them to pick the lock of even the most stubborn of defences.
With Messi in form and so much class around him, the Argentines will likely find the gaps in the Nigeria defence and fire their way to the knockout stage in style.
Prediction: Nigeria 0-2 Argentina