Football

FIFA 2018 | Argentina vs Nigeria: Will Messi come out of his shell?

All will depend on Lionel Messi’s magic to take Argentina in the knock-outs in the much-anticipated FIFA World Cup 2018 match against Nigeria.

All will depend on Lionel Messi’s magic to take Argentina in the knock-outs in the much-anticipated FIFA World Cup 2018 match against Nigeria.   | Photo Credit: Gabriel Rossi

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A win against Argentina would guarantee Nigeria a place in the second round.

A World Cup without two-time champion Argentina was a real possibility around October 2017.

The team, with only seven wins from its 17 matches, needed a victory while playing away from home against Ecuador in its last qualifying game.

It was skipper Lionel Messi — often derided for his below-par performance with the national side — who came to the rescue with a hat-trick in the 3-1 win in the South American qualifiers.

FIFA 2018 | Argentina vs Nigeria: Will Messi come out of his shell?

The Barcelona star, however, has failed to showcase his genius in Russia so far, as Iceland and Croatia — marking him heavily — have managed to keep him sedated.

With just a point from its two games, Argentina is in dire need for its talisman to fire against its final group stage opponent Nigeria and ensure a longer stay in the quadrennial event.

A Nigerian win over debutant Iceland has offered the South American giant a lifeline, and a comfortable win over the African side in its last group game will ensure its progress to the knockout stage. An Icelandic win over already-qualified Croatia, however, can make things complicated, with goal difference coming into play to decide the second spot in Group D.

Javier Mascherano, veteran of three World Cups, understands the magnitude of the task ahead and said: “We know the situation is tricky. We have to be united, to express our opinions, and do everything possible so the team goes into the game in the best position.”

La Albiceleste have won their previous five World Cup encounters against the African nation, which is making its sixth Finals appearance. “We must take even half chances, and be on the offensive as much as possible. Perhaps, a draw could be good to qualify, but we cannot think and play for a draw,” Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said.

“Sometimes, when you play for a draw, you get punched in the face late in the day. It will be a tough game and we must go with a tough mentality from the start to the end.”

Despite the bluster, Rohr is expected to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation, moving away from the more attacking 3-5-2 system employed in the win over Iceland.

For Argentina, River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani is likely to replace the error-prone Willy Caballero in goal and Jorge Sampaoli, criticised for his regular tactical tinkering, might opt to play with a two-man frontline with Juventus pair Gonzalo Higuain and Paolo Dybala operating ahead of Messi in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

The experienced Ever Banega and Angel Di Maria will start — after sitting out the Croatia game — offering the side the much-needed creativity, width and space.

Group D scenario

Croatia is through after two victories.

Nigeria will qualify with a win over Argentina. A point would be enough if Iceland do not beat Croatia.

If Argentina and Nigeria draw, Iceland will advance if it beats Croatia by a two-goal margin and also score at least one more than Nigeria.

Argentina will qualify by beating Nigeria coupled with Iceland losing to Croatia. If Iceland beats Croatia, then Sampaoli’s side can still qualify if it beats Nigeria by two more goals than Iceland wins its game. If Argentina and Iceland win and finish with identical records it will be decided by their disciplinary records and then drawing of lots. Argentina has three yellow cards to Iceland’s none.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:13:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/fifa-2018-argentina-vs-nigeria-preview/article24254275.ece

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