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SAINT PETERSBURG, (Xinhua) -- Lionel Messi (L) of Argentina vies with Oghenekaro Etebo of Nigeria during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group D match between Nigeria and Argentina in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 26, 2018. XINHUA PHOTO: WU ZHUANG
Last-gasp winner send Argentina into last 16 at World Cup

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Lionel Messi’s goal in the first half and Marcos Rojo’s late goal helped Argentina progress to the World Cup knockout stage after a 2-1 victory against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium here on Tuesday.

As Croatia advanced as group winner after defeating Iceland 2-1 in the other Group D match, Argentina, with one win and one victory, finished second to secure a round of 16 clash against France.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made wholesale changes to their starting 11 compared with the game against Croatia.

Messi opened the account in the 14th minute by slamming a long-range pass from midfielder Ever Banega into the far corner of the net.

The Argentina captain, having been chosen as man of the match, almost doubled the lead when Angel Di Maria won a free kick in the attacking half in the 32nd minute but Messi’s left-footed shot hit the post.

Victor Moses levelled the score in the 50th minute by converting a penalty kick awarded after Javier Mascherano’s foul inside the box.

In the 76th minute, Nigeria launched a fast counterattack but Odion Ighalo’s shot narrowly missed the target.

Manchester United defender Rojo saved the South American side from the brink of an embarrassing exit four minutes from the final whistle when he surged into the area to place Gabriel Mercado’s cross into the bottom corner.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli praised his team for their endeavors to win after the match. “The players were really brave and that courage made the second goal possible,” he said.

A total of 64,468 spectators attended Tuesday’s match at the 65,000-seat stadium, with Argentina fans outnumbering Nigeria supporters by a large margin.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr expressed his gratitude to the support. “I want to thank our supporters who have come a long way to be here. Most matches we played in felt like away games. But it’s not about the quantity of supporters but the quality, and I think we have the best ones.”

FIFA statistics showed that Argentina made 8 attempts at the goal throughout the match, while Nigeria made 9. Ball possession was 65 percent for Argentina and 35 percent for Nigeria.

The match at Saint Petersburg Stadium marked the fifth World Cup clash between Argentina and Nigeria and the South African outfit won all the five.

Argentina will play against France in their next game in Kazan on June 30. Messi said they have already studied their opponents in great detail.

“We have watched every single France game. We follow every game. France is a very good team with skilled individual players. They have very fast players who can really make a difference. I know what we will have to do. It will be a very tough game, no doubt,” Messi said.

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Argentina scrape into World Cup knockout stage after 2-1 victory against Nigeria

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Lionel Messi’s goal in the first half and Marcos Rojo’s late goal helped Argentina progress to the World Cup knockout stage after a 2-1 victory against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium here on Tuesday.

As Croatia advanced as group winner after defeating Iceland 2-1 in the other Group D match, the Albiceleste finished second to secure a round of 16 clash against France.

With only one point after first two matches, Argentina were on the brink of an early exit from the World Cup before Tuesday’s match. Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made wholesale changes to their starting 11 comparing with the game against Croatia.

In the 14th minute, Argentines broke the deadlock, as Messi slammed a long-range passing from midfielder Ever Banega into the far corner of the net.

The Argentina captain almost doubled the lead when Angel Di Maria won a free kick in the attacking half for Argentina in the 32nd minute and Messi’s left-footed shot hit the post.

Both sides didn’t create a lot of chances during the rest of time in the first half.

Just five minutes into the second half, Nigeria were awarded a penalty after Javier Mascherano’s foul inside the box.

Surrounded by the harsh catcalls from Argentina supporters, Victor Moses converted the penalty to the center of the net and helped Nigeria level the score.

After Nigeria’s equalizer, Argentines launched fierce attacks but failing to find clear-cut chances as their opponents put up a strong defense.

In the 76th minute, Nigeria launched a fast counterattack but Odion Ighalo’s shot narrowly missed the target. After the shot, Nigeria players appealed for a handball of Rojo inside the box but the referee vetoed the penalty after watching VAR replays.

After 11 minutes, Argentines’ efforts finally paid off. Assisted by Gabriel Mercado, Rojo made a shot from the center of the box and scored.

The late goal from the Manchester United star helped his team narrowly edge out the African country and keep Argentina’s World Cup dream alive.

A total of 64,468 spectators attended Tuesday’s match at the 65,000-seat Saint Petersburg Stadium, among which Argentina fans outnumbered Nigeria supporters by a large margin.

FIFA statistics showed that Argentina made 8 attempts at the goal throughout the match, while Nigeria made 9. Ball possession was 65 percent for Argentina and 35 percent for Nigeria.

The match at Saint Petersburg Stadium marked the fifth World Cup clash between Argentina and Nigeria and the Albiceleste won all the five.

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We were a few minutes away from qualification, says Nigeria head coach Rohr

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr blamed inexperience for his team’s exit from the World Cup after a last-gasp defeat to Argentina Tuesday night.

Nigeria lost 2-1 to Argentina at Saint Petersburg Stadium because of a late goal at 87th minute. As Croatia advanced as group winner after defeating Iceland 2-1 in the other Group D match, a draw with the South America country could have sent Nigeria to the knockout stage.

“It’s a big disappointment because my team gave the best,” Rohr told  reporters after the match. “We were just a few minutes away from qualification.”

“My young team was missing a little experience to handle the final minutes. I’m proud of my time. But we have to accept,” he said at a post-match press conference.

With the victory, Argentina finished second in Group D to secure a round of 16 clash against France. Rohr sent his congratulations to the opponents and hoped they can continue to perform well at the World Cup.

“Argentina will be a very difficult opponent for France. In their team, they have some players who are among the best in the world, and they are pushed by an incredible crowd of supporters,” he added.

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Messi enjoys playing for Argentina, says Sampaoli

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli praised his team for their 2018 World Cup victory against Nigeria on Tuesday evening, and said that the match proved that Lionel Messi enjoyed playing for Argentina.

Messi scored Argentina’s opening goal at the Saint Petersburg Stadium. After Nigeria equalized through a penalty, Marcos Rojo’s late volley ensured Argentina were spared an early exit from the World Cup.

“Today they were able to win against a very tough opponent. We had the necessary strength to fight to the very last minute,” Sampaoli told reporters at the post-match press conference.

“The most important thing this evening was that the players were really brave and that made the victory possible,” he added.

The Argentina coach also refuted the notion that Messi didn’t enjoy playing for his country.

“He is a person who feels, who cries, who suffers, who’s happy when Argentina win. I’ve seen him sad and I’ve seen him happy, like he was today. People have said he doesn’t enjoy playing for Argentina. That’s not true and you saw it today,” Sampaoli said.

The 58-year-old coach praised Messi for his outstanding performance, while adding that the Argentina captain needed support from the other players.

“He needs the support from his teammates, only then he will be able to show his best,” he said.

“A coach who trains Leo knows everyone around him needs to make him feel secure. Otherwise, we’ll suffer because we have the best player in the world and the other players need to benefit from that. That’s why I said the game against Croatia was our problem, not his problem,” he added.

With the victory, Argentina finished second in Group D to secure a place in the round of 16, where they will play France in Kazan on June 30.

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Messi thrilled at Argentina victory

BUENOS AIRES Argentina (Xinhua) -- Argentinean football star Lionel Messi said on Tuesday that “it is marvellous to win this way,” after a tough 2-1 victory against Nigeria, which let it qualify for the second round of the World Cup in Russia.

“We were confident that we would go forward, to win this game, but we did not expect the complication of them equalizing,” he told the press.

The forward, who scored his first goal of the Cup by putting Argentina 1-0 up, indicated that “it is marvellous to win this way and that it was Marcos (Rojo) who scored, with everything he went through to be here.”

“To be eliminated would have been a very ugly, very unfair ending for all of us,” said the captain to the TyC Sports TV channel.

Messi, who turned 31 last Thursday, thanked the more than 30,000 Argentineans who took over the stadium in St. Petersburg, saying that they had made “an enormous sacrifice to be here.”

Messi also dismissed any differences the team had had with coach Jorge Sampaoli after the 3-0 loss to Croatia, pointing out that “the jersey of the team is above anything else.”

Argentina finished second in its group with 4 points and will face France in the second round on Saturday.

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Mina tells Barcelona teammate Messi to ‘enjoy himself’

KAZAN Russia (Xinhua) -- Embattled Argentina forward Lionel Messi received words of support from his Barcelona teammate Yerry Mina ahead of the Albiceleste’s crunch World Cup Group D match against Nigeria on Tuesday.

To advance to the round of 16, Argentina must beat the African side and hope that Iceland do not defeat Croatia by a margin that leaves the Nordic team with a superior goal difference.

Messi has been a peripheral figure in Russia so far, missing a penalty in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland and going unsighted for long periods in his team’s 3-0 loss to Croatia.

“Messi is a crack. He has my respect for the person that he is, for the humility he has,” Mina told a press conference on Tuesday. “When I had my first training session with him I was very impressed by how he is. I have no words to explain it. They criticize him, but what he has done is incomparable.”

The center-back added: “If we had him in the Colombia team, I would support him every day to make him feel good and happy so that he could show his talent. I just want to tell him to enjoy himself, like he told me at Barcelona.”

Mina, used sparingly by Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde after arriving at the Camp Nou from Brazil’s Palmeiras in January, headed in Colombia’s first goal in their 3-0 rout of Poland on Sunday.

Colombia also need to win their last group match, against Senegal on Thursday, if they are to progress to the next stage in Russia

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Argentina’s Rojo says “the Cup starts now”

BUENOS AIRES Argentina (Xinhua) -- Defender Marcos Rojo, hero of Argentina’s tough 2-1 victory against Nigeria, said Tuesday that the team’s qualification for the knockout stage meant that “the Cup starts now.”

Speaking to Argentina’s TyC Sports minutes after scoring the 85th minute winner, Rojo said that “we needed it”, adding that the team is “stronger than ever.”

“The Cup starts now for us,” he insisted. Rojo had already scored for Argentina against Nigeria in the past during the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when his team had won 3-2.

The 28-year-old hero commented that he had assured his teams that he would score a goal.

Argentina went ahead thanks to the talismanic Lionel Messi in the 13th minute but the Nigerians equalized in the 50th minute after a penalty by Victor Moses following a foul by Javier Mascherano.

Croatia won the group with nine points after beating Iceland 2-1 and will face Denmark in the second round next Sunday.

Argentina, with just 4 points, will face France, the winners of Group C, on Saturday.

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World Cup fever grips Nigerian soccer fans ahead of Argentina match

LAGOS Nigeria (Xinhua) -- Nigerian football fans are in high spirits ahead of the team’s crucial FIFA World Cup fixture against Argentina on Tuesday evening.

The Nigerian Super Eagles will face Argentina in their last Group D match in Saint Petersburg. Nigeria are currently three points behind Croatia who collected the maximum number of points available after beating Nigeria and Argentina. Argentina and Iceland prop up the group with a point each from their respective games.

The Super Eagles defeated Iceland with the help of an Ahmed Musa brace to move ahead of Argentina in the standings. Bitrus Bewarang, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) national technical director said the Super Eagles must see Tuesday’s match against Argentina as “serious business.”

Bewarang acknowledged that they are capable of the unexpected after their 2-0 victory over Iceland. He also told reporters that the team has “no reason not to beat Argentina.” Some supporters have warned the team against being too defensive against the South Americans.

Mutiu Adepoju, a former Nigeria midfielder, urged the handlers of the team to be steadfast in the decisive match against Argentina. He said the team needs to play better than they did in their victory over Iceland.

The former Real Madrid player said he believed that Nigeria would win the game to qualify for the round of 16, if the team believes that they can play a better pattern. Christian Chukwu, a former Nigeria national team coach, also urged the players to exhibit team spirit [in order] to overcome Argentina.

The Super Eagles met Argentina for the first time in Nigeria’s maiden appearance at the 1994 World Cup, where Diego Maradona captained the team that defeated Nigeria 2-1. Nigeria also met Argentina at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup where they lost 1-0. They also lost to South Americans at the 2010 edition of the tournament and at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

           

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