Nigeria vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned
The two teams to progress from Group F played out an exciting match to complete the first stage on Wednesday, with Argentina coming out on top 3-2.
Two superb goals from Lionel Messi and a third from Marcos Rojo were enough for the Albicelestes, while Ahmed Musa shone for Nigeria with a well-taken brace.
Here are six things we learned from this entertaining clash.
A Firing Di Maria Makes Life Easier for Messi
Messi was once again the star for Argentina, scoring two goals to set up his side's win for the third game in a row.
While his performances in the first two matches were somewhat muted, aside from the goals, this time he was also lively and influential in general play.
Part of the reason he was able to take control of this match was the fact that Angel Di Maria had stepped up his own game on the left flank.
The skinny Real Madrid man was superb for the Albicelestes, bombing up and down the sideline and firing in shots on goal to give the Nigerians plenty to think about.
With Di Maria's threat on the left, Messi was able to find more space to work in on the right, and he duly took advantage of it.
Nigeria Don't Sit Back
Many teams change their tactics when they come up against one of the "big" nations such as Argentina.
Not Nigeria, though, who refused to simply sit back and soak up pressure.
The Africans were not averse to getting men behind the ball when Argentina were in possession, but nor were they afraid to attack with gusto—and in numbers.
Rather than going into their shells when Messi scored early, Nigeria swept forward and struck back immediately.
The downside of such a plan, however, is that Di Maria, Messi and others are left with plenty of space to work with.
Musa Is Magic
While Messi was doing what he does down one end, Ahmed Musa was putting in a classic World Cup performance of his own for the Super Eagles.
Both of his goals were excellent, and both depended on an element of surprise.
The first came moments after Argentina had scored, with Musa taking advantage of slack marking to hurtle into the box and finish coolly.
His second goal was the result of an intelligent run from deep, which was made at such pace that nobody tracked him.
Nigeria's opponents in the knockout stages will be keeping a close eye on the zippy No. 7.
Sabella May Have Lost the Dressing Room
An incident in the 71st minute will be of concern to Argentina fans.
As Sabella barked instructions to substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi, the Paris Saint-Germain player showed his disdain for the coach by squirting him with water from the bottle he was drinking.
This might have just been a moment of petulance from the fiery forward, or it could have been a sign that the manager lacks respect from his playing group.
Any major dressing-room issues would be a hindrance to Argentina's hopes of winning the title.
Nigeria Deservedly into the Last 16
The vigour with which Nigeria took on one of the tournament favourites proves they deserve their spot in the knockout stages of Brazil 2014.
African teams have not had the best World Cup overall, but the Super Eagles have shown more intent and more promise than group opponents Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran.
Scoring twice against Argentina indicates they are a side who can trouble anyone in the competition.
Argentina's Defence Is a Concern
Argentina's strength is obviously in their attacking players.
Messi is a force of nature, but even apart from their captain, the Albicelestes can rely on a bevy of talented forwards to terrorise opponents.
The manner in which the defence conceded two goals today will be a major concern for Sabella, however.
For both goals, Musa was afforded far too much time and space to ghost into the box.
If Argentina are to win the World Cup, they will have to resist players of the class of Robin van Persie, Neymar and James Rodriguez at some stage.
Shambolic defending such as that shown against Nigeria would see them eliminated against top opposition.
There is room for improvement.