Whether it was the urgency of possibly crashing out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, or the criticisms of the world of football, Lionel Messi’s Argentina managed to squeeze out of Group D into the Round of 16 as runner-ups, in a tough 1-2 win against the Nigerian side of John Obi Mikel.

After Messi’s effort in the 14th minute shook the 19-year-old Francis Uzoho’s net, both sides came close to clocking in more goals during the rest of the first half, but to no avail. Messi’s foul shot in the 34th minute from a stationary 3 meters from the penalty area was perhaps the closest chance to a goal. However, the fingertips of Uzoho and the right post were there to dictate a 0-1 end to the first half.

Heading into the second half, the Nigerian side struck gold when defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano led Leon Balogun into the ground, forcing the referee to award an open chance from the penalty spot for the Super Eagles. After relentless insisting for a VAR (Video assistant referee) review, the Argentinian protesting was ignored by the official, who then allowed Victor Moses to tie the scoreboard in the 51st minute.

Controversy struck in the 75th minute, when urged by the roaring Saint Petersburg Stadium and the Nigerians, the official decided to consult the VAR regarding a situation where Marcos Rojo’s arm clearly helped him control an incoming cross. Failing to see a strong reason for a penalty, the official waved away any Nigerian protesting and whistled the game back into motion. Frustration arose, as the game stayed scoreless for ten more minutes, when in the 86th, the Southern American side found relief in Rojo’s volley in the back of the African net.

More than 700 km away, in Luzhniki Stadium, Argentina’s opponent for the Round of 16 match on Saturday the 30th was decided earlier in the day, when France tied in a scoreless match against the Danish side. By winning Group C, the French side of Didier Deschamps eased into the next round to face Messi’s side, hopefully overtaking them with the likes of forwards Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé. Saturday’s assignment will once again put Messi’s nerves to the test, as not only do the Argentinian supporters hope for a quarter-finals bout, but anyone appreciative of the game of football will be glued to their seats to watch the Argentinian’s talent unfold this Russian World Cup edition, most likely his last.

Photo: abc.net.au

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