Argentina finished the 2014 World Cup group stages with the maximum of points on Wednesday, defeating Nigeria 3-2 in a highly entertaining match.
Lionel Messi opened the score in the third minute, reacting fastest to a loose ball in the box to slot it home with authority. FIFA World Cup has the Vine:
VINE: It only took Messi 2 minutes to score! http://t.co/xSTkdiD2Ej— World Cup 2014 (@FIFAWorldCupTM) June 25, 2014
The Nigerians equalised through Ahmed Musa just a minute later, and both teams were evenly matched for much of the first half. Angel di Maria had a few good shots on goal, but it was once again Messi who put his team in front with a perfect free-kick just before half-time.
Here's the second goal, via Bleacher Report UK:
Musa again pulled his team level just after the break, but Marco Rojo put the final score on the board just minutes later with a powerful header.
Messi was all over the pitch during the first half, building on two solid performances that saw him score the match winners against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. Per WhoScored.com, he's been in fine form so far:
Lionel Messi: Has now scored in each of Argentina’s last 3 World Cup finals matches after scoring just 1 in his last 8 #arg— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 25, 2014
Infostrada Sports knew the opening goal was the fastest of Messi's incredible career:
His second goal gave him four in the tournament, good enough to join Brazil's Neymar as top scorer, via Squawka:
Bleacher Report's Karl Matchett was lost for words:
Messi. that is all.— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) June 25, 2014
Golfer Gary Player also didn't hide his admiration for Messi:
Messi is a football genius #2014WorldCup— Gary Player (@garyplayer) June 25, 2014
Messi left the pitch after 60 minutes to a standing ovation from the crowd:
Lionel Messi exits the stage to a standing ovation. Lovely stuff. #ARG— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 25, 2014
He wasn't the only standout performer, however. Di Maria was the team's most threatening player for much of the match, dominating the left wing and taking several good shots at the goal of Vincent Enyeama.
Real Madrid Info thought the Nigerian stopper had seen enough going into half-time:
Nigeria NT goal keeper is looking to take a college major in "Saving Di Maria powerful shots".— Real Madrid Info (@RmadridInfo) June 25, 2014
Live Echo News' Jay Riley was in awe of the winger, who didn't see his excellent performance rewarded with a goal:
The Daily Mirror's Ed Malyon thinks Di Maria often benefits from playing with some of the biggest stars, though he too expressed his admiration for the player:
Di Maria has surely been one of the best players in the world in 2014? Probably suits him that he always has a big name teammate.— Ed Malyon (@eaamalyon) June 25, 2014
Bleacher Report's Dan Colasimone thinks perhaps it's the other way round:
A rampant Di Maria makes things so much easier for Messi.— Dan Colasimone (@ArgentinaFW) June 25, 2014
Yet talkSPORT's Lee Roden did see one weakness:
Angel Di Maria would rather do pretty much anything in the world than pass on his right foot.— Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) June 25, 2014
Argentina will have to wait for the results of the matches in Group E, played later on Wednesday, to know whom their first opponents of the knockout stages will be.
Switzerland are the most likely candidates, though Ecuador also still have a chance providing they can get a positive result against the French team. Ecuador's over-reliance on wing-play would no doubt give Argentina the easier matchup, but Switzerland have struggled defending their own goal.
Regardless of the opponents, the Albiceleste will feel good about their chances in the round of 16, having played their best match of the tournament against a surprisingly challenging Nigerian team.
The defence is still a massive question mark, however, so the Argentine fans will once again have to rely on the brilliance of their attacking unit led by Messi and Di Maria to save the day.