Argentina prevailed in an enthralling night in Saint Petersburg, beating Nigeria 2-1 thanks to a new found partnership, M&M, Marcos and Messi.
The build-up to one of the biggest games in Argentina’s recent history was of a power-shift from manager to players and people doubting the legacy of Lionel Messi.
From the crescendo of noise and impeccable passion from the South Americans at the national anthem, it was an occasion needing a superman.
Today, Messi was not going to let his nation be embarrassed again. He was relentless, it was the legend at his best. The introduction of Ever Banega, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria to the start was a step towards benefiting the team based around the great one.
The energy and belief were there but the chances weren’t coming, then it clicked in one silky motion. Banega floated a ball over Kenneth Omeruo’s head for Messi, a touch with his quad killing it dead, his left foot kicked him on to give a yard of space and bang. A right-footed finish with immaculate composure, he had arrived.
The 100th goal in Russia, of course it was him.
Messi nearly doubled the tally but Uzoho got a great touch onto the post, Nigeria were being swept aside.
But, then again, this is Argentina. Five minutes into the second half, Javi Mascherano grappled with Balogun and a penalty was given, might be on for 30 at the World Cup at this rate. Ice cool from Victor Moses levelled the score and all of a sudden, Argentina were back on the brink and needing a lifeline.
Odion Igahlo had two incredible opportunities to bury Jorge Sampaoli’s side but fluffed his lines, a VAR penalty appeal survived, enter the hero.
Gabriel Mercardo whips over the cross, the ball drops onto a right foot and as he prepares to volley it, you realise this is Marcos Rojo. A thunderous finish sets off jubilant scenes and salvation for Argentina with four minutes left.
Argentina icon Diego Maradona certainly let himself enjoy the occasion, maybe not in the most flattering of manners.
La Seleccion had held on and they maintained their World Cup status. If anyone deserved another chance, it was Messi, next for them, France.
Elsewhere in Rostov, Croatia completed a 100% group stage, defeating Iceland 2-1. Ivan Perisic with the winner as Iceland at one point were a goal away from qualification.
Milan Badelj volleyed the Croats ahead in the second half, but a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty levelled things and with their rivals drawing in Saint Petersburg, they needed a goal to snatch second. Perisic crushed their hopes as well as Rojo’s eventual winner.
Croatia top Group D and take on Denmark in the Round of 16, whilst the tie of the tournament so far was set, France against Argentina.