Messi’s Argentina, Nigeria bask in glow of qualification
Lionel Messi’s man-of-the-match double goal performance in Argentina’s 3-2 win over Nigeria on Wednesday
Porto Alegre (Brazil): Lionel Messi’s man-of-the-match double goal performance in Argentina’s 3-2 win over Nigeria on Wednesday prompted the African champions’ coach Stephen Keshi to suggest the star striker had flown in from “Jupiter”.
The Barcelona superstar joined Brazil’s Neymar at the top of the World Cup scoring charts on four with a goal in the third minute and another, a superbly struck free kick, in first half stoppage time.
These came on top of his match-winning strikes against Bosnia-Hercegovina and Iran.
“Messi is one heck of a player, he’s blessed,” Keshi acknowledged after seeing his side lose but still qualify for the last 16 as runners-up in Group F.
“There are other calibre players in Argentina that are very strong, but Messi is from Jupiter,” Keshi told a post-match press conference.
Any chance Messi had of a hat-trick were dashed when coach, Alejandro Sabella, replaced him with Ricardo Alvarez after an hour.
“It seemed to me at 3-2 that we needed Messi to rest – it was agreed beforehand,” explained Sabella.
Messi, who enjoyed friendly banter with Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama during the game, said he was just happy he and his teammates had achieved their objective of qualifying.
“We hope to continue like this, I think today you saw a better Argentina,” he said.
“I’m happy at what we’ve done so far and to finish top of the group. A team like Nigeria play well, if you allow them space they can do you damage.”
The reward for securing the Group F summit is to likely avoid Didier Deschamps’ France side in the second round.
“Now we can’t make any mistakes,” Messi cautioned, “as any error will see us getting knocked out.
“There is nothing more beautiful than to be world champion, to achieve that with my country.”
Argentina will be hoping Sergio Aguero’s muscle problem, that forced the Manchester City striker off before half time, is not too serious. Nigeria in the meantime celebrated making it out of the first round for the first time since 1998.
“I’m honored it’s going our way,” said Keshi who has been in talks to become manager of South Africa after the competition.
On a potential clash with France, the Super Eagles boss remarked: “We know they are a very good, entertaining side, we will have to prepare ourselves to face a very good team for the next game.”
Reflecting on Nigeria’s performance with Ahmed Musa also bagging two goals, Keshi said: “I think we lost the game in the first half, we gave too much respect to the Argentines and didn’t play our game. We were more relaxed and aggressive in the second half, much better.”
One cloud on Keshi’s World Cup horizon concerns Ukraine-based forward Michael Babatunde, who had to be stretchered off in the second half.
“Michael’s broken a bone in his hand, he’s gone for surgery. I’m not sure if he can continue in the World Cup, we’ll see how it goes, but it doesn’t look good.”
“We went out for a win, not for a draw, but we lost and we qualify,” said CSKA Moscow striker Musa.