Argentina scraped through to the Round of 16 after Lionel Messi broke his drought and Marcos Rojo scored a stunning late winner.

Argentina scraped through to the Round of 16 after Lionel Messi broke his drought and Marcos Rojo scored a stunning late winner.

This was a huge match, as after a 1-1 draw with Iceland and 3-0 defeat to Croatia, La Seleccion and Leo Messi needed a victory to get out of the group stage of a tournament they were initially one of the favourites to win. Jorge Sampaoli resisted an alleged player coup this week and maintained control, making wholesale changes including Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega stepping in, with goalkeeper Franco Armani getting his senior debut in place of disappointing Willy Caballero. Nigeria had an even better chance of qualifying, as even a draw would be enough as long as Iceland didn’t beat already-qualified Croatia.

Everyone was waiting for Messi and he arrived, controlling a long Ever Banega ball and smashing it across Francis Uzoho. It means Messi is the first man to score in a World Cup in his teens, his twenties and his thirties.

Messi was about to add an assist to that, but Higuain failed to make the most of it and accidentally kneed the goalkeeper in the head.

Angel Di Maria was running on goal when clipped from behind by Leon Balogun and Messi saw his resulting free kick fingertipped on to the upright by Uzoho.

Nigeria started the second half strong with a series of corners and earned a penalty for Javier Mascherano’s slight tug on Balogun. Victor Moses kept his cool to convert, sending Armani the wrong way and with the scores at 1-1, Nigeria would qualify.

Argentina poured forward toothlessly and were nearly caught on the counter, as Ndidi blasted over. Mascherano’s nightmare continued, as he headed the ball on to his own hand and then Ighalo blasted wide. The referee viewed it on VAR and ruled it was involuntary, as it ricocheted off one part of the body on to the hand.

Higuain was relatively unmarked from 10 yards and smashed it over the bar in a big miss, and Ighalo’s free kick scraped a coat of paint off the upright.

But in the final minutes, a cross from the right came in to find Marcos Rojo of all people for a spectacular volley off the inside of the right boot from 12 yards.

Nigeria threw everything at them during stoppages, including Crotone striker Nwaknwo Simy, but to no avail.

Nigeria 1-2 Argentina

Messi 15 (A), Moses pen 51 (N), Rojo 87 (A)

Nigeria: Uzoho; Balogun, Ekong, Omeruo (Iwobi 90); Moses, Etebo, Mikel, Ndidi, Idowu; Musa (Nwankwo Simy 92), Iheanacho (Ighalo 46)

Argentina: Armani; Mercado, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico (Aguero 79); Perez (Pavon 60), Mascherano, Banega; Messi, Higuain, Di Maria (Meza 71)

Ref: Cakir (TUR)

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