Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute goal sends Argentina to the knockout round, Lionel Messi and Argentina finally got things going at the World Cup.
Messi scored an exquisite 14th-minute goal to give the two-time champions the lead in a must-win game against Nigeria on Tuesday, but it wasn’t until Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute strike that Argentina was assured of a place in the round of 16 with a 2-1 victory.
Victor Moses scored from the penalty spot in the 51st minute for Nigeria, putting Argentina in danger of being eliminated without winning a match in Russia.
The win gave the Argentines second place in Group D and allowed the soccer-mad nation to forget about the 3-0 loss to Croatia last week that sparked days of soul-searching within the squad and back home.
Overcome by the stunning turn of events, former Argentine superstar Diego Maradona flipped off the crowd following the goal.
Argentina will play France in the last 16 in Kazan on Saturday, keeping alive Messi’s quest for a first world title. He might have retired from international soccer for a second time — and for good this time — if it wasn’t for Rojo’s goal.
Messi’s 65th international goal owed as much to Ever Banega’s long, driven pass over the defense as the forward’s exquisite control on his left thigh, another touch with his left foot, and then a cool right-footed finish into the corner.
Nigeria was minutes away from advancing to the knockout round of a World Cup for the fourth time. As it finished, the African nation ended up third in the group — a point behind Argentina.
Argentina has four days to prepare for its last 16 matches against France. It is the first game of the knockout stage.
Key to success
Messi delivered his best performance of the tournament, with his goal of allowing Argentina to take early control of the game.
Yet the standout player might have been Banega, who was recalled to midfield after being on the bench for the first two games and impressed with his work rate and range of passing.