Ns News Online Desk: Argentina have squeezed through to the knockout stages of the World Cup after Marcos Rojo’s superb late volley secured a victory over Nigeria that took them above their opponents and into second place in Group D. They will face France in the last 16 on Saturday.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side looked to be heading out after Victor Moses’s penalty cancelled out Lionel Messi’s brilliant first-half goal but Rojo’s instinctive 86th-minute effort following Gabriel Mercado’s cross shattered Nigeria’s hopes.
Messi, and Argentina, had started much more promisingly here than in their previous two matches but Jorge Sampaoli’s team were unable to maintain their momentum after the break as Nigeria improved.The Argentinian goalkeeper Willy Caballero paid the price for his error in the defeat by Croatia and was replaced by the uncapped River Plate keeper Franco Armani. Gonzalo Higuaín was selected over Sergio Agüero in attack, while Marcos Rojo, Ángel Di María and Éver Banega were also brought in to an Argentinian side facing elimination after collecting only one point from their first two games.
Argentina went ahead inside 14 minutes courtesy of Messi’s first goal in Russia. Banega spotted him with a terrific pass over the top and the Barcelona forward deftly controlled the ball with his thigh, took another touch and then fired into the far corner with his right foot.
Messi was much more involved here than he had been in the previous two matches and hit a post later in the half with a free-kick later that the goalkeeper Francis Uzoho got a slight touch on.As it stood at half-time, with Argentina 1-0 ahead and Croatia and Iceland goalless, the two-time winners were heading through to the last 16. But the tables were turned after Nigeria were awarded a penalty within five minutes of the restart when Javier Mascherano was judged to have pulled back Leon Balogun following a needlessly conceded corner, .
Argentina disputed the award as the VAR assessed and then confirmed the decision, but Victor Moses coolly sent Armani the wrong way to bring the scores level and put Nigeria back in the box seat for qualification. An emboldened Nigeria then had chances to take the lead as Argentina pushed forward but they were caught out in the closing stages by Rojo.