Nigeria vs. Argentina: Roaming Lionel Messi the Key to Unlock Nigeria's Defence

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Nigeria vs. Argentina: Roaming Lionel Messi the Key to Unlock Nigeria's Defence
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Argentina sealed top spot in FIFA World Cup Group F with a frantic 3-2 win over Nigeria on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi opened the scoring in just the second minute but la Albiceleste were pegged back by Ahmed Musa immediately. Messi struck again just before half-time to give his side the lead, but again it evaporated minutes later, with Musa jinking through to notch once more.

Left-back Marcos Rojo scored the winner, turning home a corner with his knee.

 

Formations and XIs

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Nigeria were unchanged from their victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Joseph Yobo, Michael Babatunde and Peter Odemwingie continuing in the XI.

Argentina, too, were unchanged and continued in their 4-3-1-2 system that eventually conquered Iran last week.

 

Ahmed Musa on the Left

Nigeria's organised 4-2-3-1 contained a slight tweak on the version that successfully stifled and beat Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the attacking midfield selection switched around again.

Odemwingie started on the right, Babatunde through the middle and Musa this time on the left, with the focus on releasing the latter down the flank.

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Musa on the left had a real impact.

Pablo Zabaleta carries a heavy responsibility to get forward on the right and provide width, and Stephen Keshi opted to place his fastest player (by a distance) in the space behind him.

It worked, as in the fourth minute Musa was found in space on the left on a counter-attack and curled a delicious effort home.

 

Pressing

In the build-up to the aforementioned goal, Argentina got caught a little too eager in pressing the opposition.

It's very unlike Javier Mascherano to commit beyond the midfield line when there are four or five ahead of him, but he did so, removing any defensive midfield presence around Babatunde and allowing him to run free.

After the mistake, he toned it down, unwilling to give Nigeria any more time in the No. 10 space, but he still made several mistakes under duress, in possession and high up the pitch.

Afterward, the forward line began to harry the ball-players to share the load. Even Gonzalo Higuain joined in.

 

Freeing Messi

When Alejandro Sabella picks the 4-3-1-2 formation, Messi gets moved around a lot and has the freedom to switch roles.

He starts nominally bridging the right-wing and No. 10 roles but drifts extensively, often leaving a hole on the right flank, which Zabaleta or one of the strikers should fill.

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Messi created three chances for teammates and scored twice himself.

Early on, la Albiceleste looked a little disjointed, as Musa kept Zabaleta honest at the back and unable to fill the space by surging forward so regularly. An injury to Sergio Aguero meant Ezequiel Lavezzi entered the fray, though, and he was far more able to dart right and occupy Juwon Oshaniwa.

From there, it was all Messi: surging forward, ducking into gaps and driving at the defence. His two goals in 63 minutes were a just reward for his play, and if Higuain and Angel Di Maria had been a little sharper, they'd have taken advantage of his superb passing.

 

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