Argentina will take on the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Tuesday in a Group D encounter with their World Cup hopes hanging by the thread and knowing that only victory will do as they look to progress through to the last 16 of the World Cup.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are aware that a draw in St Petersburg will eliminate the 2014 runners-up, but that could also give Iceland an opportunity to sneak into the knockout stage if they defeat the already-qualified Croatia.
Nigeria has been dismal up to the second half of the Iceland match and very few people could argue with that fact. The Super Eagles looked really poor in their opening-game defeat to Croatia and only came to life in the second half of the encounter against Iceland.
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Nigeria came out after halftime looking like a different side, showing an increasing threat on the counter-attack and Ahmed Musa – who has failed to justify his huge sign on fee at Leicester City since 2016 was the main driving force in attack for Nigeria.
Musa’s first goal against Iceland, a half-volley into the roof of the net was purely instinctive, but his second goal a solo run which ended with him rounding the goalkeeper and tapping home will have given Leicester City some glimmer of hope that he might still justify the £16.6m paid for the attacker’s signature.
Friday’s victory over Iceland also ended a five-match winless streak that started with the loss in a pre-World Cup friendly match against Serbia. This may well be the beginning of a new dawn for Nigeria as they head into the game against Argentina brimming with confidence and hoping to send the Albeceleste packing from the competition.
One unpleasant reoccurrence with the Super Eagles performance in recent times has been their sluggish and slow start to games. This cannot happen against Argentina with Lionel Messi and the entire Argentinean team still hurting after the embarrassment of their previous defeat, and it is up to Nigeria to press from the opening whistle in order to leave their more illustrious opponents with no time to regain their confidence.
Nigeria has narrowly lost all four previous World Cup matches against Argentina but they have shown in the past that they can hold their own against the star-studded South American opponent. If Nigeria can replicate their second-half performance against Iceland, it might just be enough to hand the Africans their first competitive win over Argentina and send Lionel Messi home.
This World Cup was supposed to be a platform for Argentina to try to overcome the disappointment of losing the final to Germany in 2014, but so far the current tournament is proving to be far more frustrating for the two-time winners.
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Argentina started the tournament quite well when Sergio Aguero gave his team an early lead against Iceland just a few minutes into their first game, but since then it has been near calamitous, with Messi missing important penalties and looking ineffective while the backline is playing with little coordination and showing no confidence.
Goalkeeper Willy Caballero was at fault for the first two goals which Argentina conceded at this tournament, but that does not excuse the manner of the team’s performance in the final quarter against Croatia, with a number of players appearing to concede defeat without much of a fight.
That is considered unacceptable back home and there have been calls for Jorge Sampaoli to step down from his position before the final group game, but the 58-year-old is being given one more chance to redeem himself at a time when the stakes are high.
In 56 years, only once in 2002 have Argentina failed to progress past the first round at the World Cup, but one of the giants of international football, who arguably possess the best lineup of attacking players in the tournament – will be eliminated if they cannot find a way to overcome Nigeria.
Sampaoli must decide whether to hand a third start to Aguero, who was withdrawn early in the second half against Croatia.
With a win required, the possibility remains of one of Aguero and Higuain starting alongside Dybala and Messi, with Maximiliano Meza potentially being dropped to the bench.
Marcos Rojo is in contention for a recall into the defence while Federico Fazio could also be involved. Angel Di Maria will also expect to start after been consigned to the substitute bench for the Croatia game.
A doubt remains over whether Willy Caballero will be allowed to continue in goal, although Nahuel Guzman is relatively unproven on the international stage and Franco Armani is yet to win his first cap.
As for Nigeria, captain John Obi Mikel should be fit to take his place in the team, despite suffering an injury to his arm during the closing stages against Iceland.
Tyronne Ebuehi is likely to be recalled in place of Brian Idowu at full-back after being introduced at half time in the previous fixture.
Nigeria Possible Starting Lineup:
Uzoho; Omeruo, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Ebuehi; Mikel, Ndidi; Moses, Etebo, Musa; Iheanacho
Argentina Possible Starting Lineup:
Caballero; Salvio, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico; Mascherano, Perez; Di Maria, Messi, Dybala; Higuain
Head To Head
Tuesday’s fixture will represent the ninth contest between the two sides, with Argentina registering five wins in comparison to two victories for Nigeria.
Nigeria and Argentina are no strangers to each other at a World Cup, with the upcoming match their fifth clash on the biggest stage since they first locked horns in 1994.
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The most recent showdown came in November as Nigeria overturned a two-goal deficit to run out 4-2 victors in a friendly held in Krasnodar.
We expect a very close contest with lots of goal-scoring opportunities at both ends. Argentina is desperate for a victory to stay at the World Cup but the Super Eagles will not lay low and allow them to have their wish on a platter of gold.
The is going to be a football spectacle and the truth is that the Argentinean team even with all their superstars are simply not ready for this World Cup, the camp is in disarray and the senior players are up in arms against the coach.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, this is the best opportunity for Nigeria to claim her first competitive victory against Argentina and we believe the Super Eagles will seize the opportunity with both hands. Our prediction is a 2-0 victory for Nigeria.
Kick Off Time
The Super Eagles of Nigeria and Argentina FIFA World Cup group D match will take place at the Saint-Petersburg Stadium, on Tuesday, June 26 and Kick off time is 7 pm Nigerian time.