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Rojo the hero as Argentina secures spot in last 16

Nigeria 1 (Moses pen 51’)
Argentina 2 (Messi 14’, Rojo 86′)

By Jakob Gisik

A late Marcos Rojo goal has given Argentina a 2-1 win over Nigeria and lifted them into the last 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The South Americans appeared to be heading towards an embarrassing exit from the tournament, with the scores locked at 1-1 with just minutes to play in St Petersburg.

But a well-weighted cross from Gabriel Mercado in the 86th minute found Rojo in the middle of the box, and the Manchester United man volleyed home the winner to spare his side’s blushes.

The victory means Argentina join Croatia as the two teams to advance from Group D, while Nigeria miss out on the last 16 for the third time in four World Cup appearances.

After being thumped by Croatia in their previous match, Argentina looked intent on starting this game positively, and they did just that, with captain Lionel Messi opening the scoring inside 15 minutes.

A well-directed lob from Evan Banega found Messi on the edge of the penalty area, where the little master controlled the ball with his knee before tucking it away with a powerful right-foot strike.

The goal was Messi’s first of the 2018 World Cup and he almost doubled his tally 10 minutes later when his curling free-kick from just outside the box shot struck the right-hand upright.

Argentina dominated possession in the first-half, something they had also done in their previous two matches, and Nigeria went into the break without recording a single shot on target.

However, the Super Eagles were back in the match shortly after half-time when Javier Mascherano wrapped his arms around Leon Balogun and pulled him down inside the penalty area.

The referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, and Victor Moses sent Franco Armani the wrong way to level the scores.

Nigeria could have had their second penalty of the half in the 75th minute, when Rojo tried to head the ball clear of his own area, but accidentally headed it straight into his own arm.

Argentina were forced to endure a nervous wait as the referee checked with the VAR, but he stayed with his original decision, judging the handball to be unintentional.

The decision adds to the growing controversy surrounding the VAR, with the Rojo handball similar to Yussuf Poulsen’s against the Socceroos, which saw Australia awarded a penalty.

Rojo would be involved again just 10 minutes later, when he volleyed a Mercado cross into the back of the net to secure Argentina a spot in the knockout stage.

Match Statistics

Shots (On Target)
Nigeria – 9 (3)
Argentina – 8 (4)

Nigeria – 33%
Argentina – 67%

Nigeria – 20
Argentina – 15

Nigeria – 3
Argentina – 5

Team Line-ups

Nigeria: 23 Uzoho (GK), 2 Idowu, 4 Ndidi, 5 Troost-Ekong, 6 Balogun, 7 Musa (90+2’), 8 Etebo, 10 Obi Mikel (C), 11 Moses, 14 Iheanacho (46’), 22 Omeruo (90’).
Substitutes: 1 Ezenwa (GK), 3 Echiejile, 9 Ighalo (46’), 12 Abdullahi, 13 Nwankwo (90+2’), 15 Obi, 16 Akpeyi, 17 Onazi, 18 Iwobi (90’), 19 Ogu, 20 Awaziem, 21 Ebuehi.

Argentina: 12 Armani (GK), 2 Mercado, 3 Tagliafico (80’), 7 Banega, 9 Higuain, 10 Messi (C), 11 Di Maria (72’), 14 Mascherano, 15 Perez (61’), 16 Rojo, 17 Otamendi.
Substitutes: 1 Guzman (GK), 4 Ansaldi, 5 Biglia, 6 Fazio, 8 Acuna, 13 Meza (72’), 18 Salvio, 19 Aguero (80’), 20 Lo Celso, 21 Dybala, 22 Pavon (61’), 23 Caballero (GK).

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