Marcos Rojo was Argentina’s hero as his stunning late winner secured a 2-1 defeat of Nigeria’s Super Eagles that keeps Lionel Messi’s side in the World Cup.
The Super Eagles were heading through to the last 16 at Argentina’s expense with four minutes to go of the final Group D game, but Rojo’s sensational low volley saved Jorge Sampaoli’s men and set up a showdown with France in the next round.
Messi gave Argentina the lead in St Petersburg on Tuesday, the Barcelona superstar scoring a stunner to bring up the 100th goal of Russia 2018.
But when Javier Mascherano dragged down Leon Balogun in the box shortly after the restart, Victor Moses stepped up to roll Nigeria level and within touching distance of progressing.
Sampaoli sent on attackers Cristian Pavon, Maximiliano Meza and Sergio Aguero, but it was defender Rojo who came up with a quite brilliant winner.
The right-wing cross from another defender, Gabriel Mercado, was perfectly placed for Rojo to arrive late and slam home an improbable, unstoppable finish that extends Argentina’s stay at the World Cup.
Former Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Technical Director, Tunde Disu, has said that hard luck was responsible for Nigeria’s Super Eagles ouster from the ongoing World Cup in Russia.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Super Eagles lost1-2 loss to La Albiceleste of Argentina in their last Group D match at St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
An emotional Disu told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the Gernot Rohr-tutored side deserved to win barring the last minute goal by Marcus Rojo.
“Hard luck caused the Eagles loss to Argentina; I think we did not deserve to lose the game by all standards.
“The Eagles played to the best of their abilities save some players, the coach ought to have removed during the match, one of whom was Moses.
“The coach should have replaced Moses to bring on a more vibrant Alex Iwobi. Moses looked tired and was not marking anyone towards the tail of the match.
“In all, I think it was a good outing for us because Argentina has the experience to beat Nigeria at any given time; only that we showed the world that we are no push over,’’ he said.
Disu told NAN that the Eagles should hold their heads high as they did not have the worst campaign after all.
“The Eagles should not be too sad about this, they played a more experienced side with quality players and they still held their own.
“It is a loss for us, yet it is a good outing at the World Cup,’’ he said.
Nigeria has never defeated Argentina in all the five encounters they have had at the World Cup, starting from the USA ’94 edition.
In that encounter, the Diego Maradona-captained squad beat the Super Eagles 2-1 in a keenly contested match, where Nigeria drew the first blood through a Samson Siasia’s goal.
But the Argentines eventually brought their guile and skill to bear on the Super Eagles who were playing for the first time ever at the FIFA World Cup
The match had begun tentatively, and Lionel Messi brought it into life when he scored his first Russia 2018 goal in fine fashion to give Argentina a deserved 1-0 half-time lead.
Ever Banega lifted over a retreating Nigerian defenceline for Messi to brilliantly control with his thigh and edge past Kenneth Omeruo before striking home in the 14th minute with his right.
Argentina had been lacklustre in their first two games and were on the verge of an embarrassing exit, but they did what was needed to keep the Nigerian side in check.
Messi could have extended the lead in the 32nd minute, when Banega almost inspired a second goal for the Argentines.
Banega put Angel Di Maria clear, and the winger was brought down by Leon Balogun for a free kick.
His free kick from the edge of the penalty box was pushed into the far upright and back into play by goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.
They steadfastly held on to their lead as the Eagles struggled to stay in the game and probably draw level.
But a Javier Mascherano foul on Balogun resulted in a penalty kick which Victor Moses utilised to equalise for Nigeria in the 51st minute, for the Eagles to spring to life.
Nigeria thereafter wasted several chances to add a second, with their offensive still blunt in spite of the 46th minute substitution of Kelechi Iheanacho for Odion Ighalo.
But as the clock wound down, Argentina surged forward in their number, getting succour from an unlikely source in Manchester United central defender Rojo.
Nigeria were just minutes away from joining group leaders Croatia in the second round before Rojo superbly volleyed home a Gabriel Mercado cross from the right.
Croatia advance as Group D winners with the maximum nine points after beating Iceland 2-1 in the group’s other match, and will now face Denmark in the second round.
Argentina go on to face France in the next round, having finished second in the group with four points.