Argentina play Nigeria in their final group game, a match which could go on to decide the fates of both the sides. We look at three stars who could make the difference.
After a disappointing draw against Iceland in their opening game and a crushing defeat in the second at the hands of Croatia, Argentina still harbour hopes of qualifying for the next round. The South Americans were handed a lifeline ahead of their final Group D game by Nigeria, who beat Iceland 2-1 to keep their own hopes alive in the tournament as well.
The aim of this Group D game is simple. If Nigeria win, they qualify for the Round of 16 alongside Croatia, who are already through. But the Super Eagles’ task is not that simple, as they face a wounded Argentine side who are likely to give it their best shot to qualify, despite their fate being out of their hands.
On the other hand, if Argentina are to beat Nigeria and Croatia get past Iceland, the South Americans will cleanly clear the group in second place. But things could change if Croatia are to be beaten by Iceland and Argentina also win, as then things could go into calculating the second placed team through goal difference and goals scored.
The drama is set to unfold, and the game between Nigeria and Argentina will have a telling effect on the consequences. We look at the three players who could step forward and make a difference for their teams.
On the bench for Nigeria’s first game against Croatia, Ahmed Musa was chosen to start against Iceland, and he didn’t disappoint. Against the tricky Icelandic team, he took his opportunity with both hands by scoring two goals to help the Super Eagles win and keep their slim hopes alive.
Musa, after that terrific two-goal display against Iceland, has found himself in the limelight and is yet again pencilled to start. But, his real test comes now, when he will need to put a masterclass performance against the 2014 World Cup runners-up Argentina and help his nation qualify for the next round by winning the game at all costs.
After Argentina disappointed with their defending in their first two games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Jorge Sampaoli has reportedly decided to ring in the changes for their third and probably the most crucial game in his managerial career. Federico Fazio is likely to be slotted at the heart of the defence, in an attempt to make it tighter than it was before.
While Argentina’s foremost central defender, Nicolas Otamendi has had a disastrous World Cup campaign so far, there is some hope with Fazio coming in. The AS Roma centre-back is expected to make a difference against Nigeria and their quick attackers, primarily to keep Ahmed Musa quiet.
While Lionel Messi and other Argentine attackers are sure to grab all the attention, it would indeed be interesting to keep an eye on Fazio and his performance at the back. Argentina might need an emphatic victory to guarantee safe passage to the next round, but that cause is only going to be helped by a water-tight defence, especially with Fazio in it.
Fans are praying that they see the real Lionel Messi in a game when Argentina need him the most. Having missed a potentially decisive penalty against Iceland in the first game, Messi’s form took a downhill turn in the encounter against Croatia, with the Barcelona star turning an uncharacteristically subdued performance.
Over the span of his career, Messi is known for being the ultimate big game player, for club and country. The latest of such an inspirational showing came when Argentina needed him to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and he duly delivered with a terrific hat-trick. Everyone around would now be hoping he shows up again, in a similar fashion.
Nigeria know the threat they are about to deal with and will probably come with a plan to stop Messi. Ultimately, a player like Lionel Messi will see the importance of such a game and all eyes will be on him to take Argentina across the finishing line against the Super Eagles.