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Nigeria coach puts expectations into per-
spective ahead of game against Argentina   

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Nigeria’s final Group D game against Argentina promises to be one of the most dramatic to date in the World Cup finals as both sides look to book a place in the last 16 of the competition.

Nigeria bounced back from an opening game disappointment when they lost 2-0 to Croatia, to beat Iceland by the same score in Volgograd. A draw against Argentina will probably be enough to put them into the next round.

Argentina have been the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far, and with Leo Messi out of form they have lacked cohesion and energy, prompting stories of divisions between players and coach Jorge Sampaoli.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is optimistic his side can eliminate Argentina, even though they have never beaten the ‘Albiceleste’ in a World Cup fixture.

“That sort of a run has to end sometime,” he said in an interview with FIFA.

“We are confident because we beat Argentina in a friendly (in Russia) last year, coming back from 2-0 down to win 4-2,” Leo Messi didn’t play, but we scored four wonderful goals and that gives us hope,” continued Ruhr.

The Nigerian coach insisted his side were still the underdogs against Argentina, who have only one point from 2 matches after drawing 1-1 against Iceland and losing 3-0 to Croatia.

“You have to put Argentina’s so-called weakness into perspective. They had bad luck with the penalty in their first game, and the outcome would’ve been different if that had gone in,” he explained, adding that Messi is “one of the best players in the world” and that Argentina have “unbelievable quality throughout the team.”

Nigeria will look to counter Messi and company with “youthful abandon, enthusiasm and desire. Most of our players want to get to where the Argentinians already are: the very top,” commented Ruhr, who believes the match will be a showcase for the talent in his squad.

‘The whole world will be watching this game and it’s a chance to show what we’re capable of,” he concluded..

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UPDATES:

Nigeria to show no pity to Argentina, says coach

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr says his team will strive for victory and show no mercy and no pity to Argentina in Tuesday’s crucial Group D match.

In the last game of the World Cup group stage, Nigeria will secure a place in the last 16 with a win, while a draw would also suffice if Iceland don’t beat group leaders Croatia by a large margin.

To advance to the knockout stage, Argentina and Lionel Messi must beat the African team and hope Iceland don’t defeat Croatia in the other Group D game. With Messi generally believed to be playing in his last World Cup, Argentina’s early exit from the competition may cause the 31-year-old to quit his national team.

“We love this great player Messi, everybody loves him,” Rohr told reporters during a press conference on the eve of the match against Argentina in Saint Petersburg.

“But the question for us is not if it’s the last World Cup for him. The question for us is to qualify. We are not here to watch him play,” the German said.

“We’re here to get a result. We are professionals and we have to defend the colors of Nigeria. In football, there is no mercy, no pity. Everybody wants to win. You can not give any gifts even if you like him so much,” Rohr added.

The 65-year-old vowed that Nigeria would come out fighting. “We know that this will be a hard battle. They have to win. Perhaps a draw will be enough for us but it’s not sure. We also want to win, so it could be a very spectacular game of football tomorrow.”

“Our situation, mentally, is good and positive,” Rohr added.

Regarding tactics, Rohr said he had several formations to choose from. He also urged his team to avoid unnecessary fouls and conceding late goals.

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Nigeria to make Tuesday’s match as Messi’s last World
Cup game in Russia, says defender Bryan Idowu

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Nigeria defender Bryan Idowua said on Monday that their main goal and only option of Tuesday’s match against Argentina is to make that to be Lionel Messi’s last game in Russia.

In the last round of World Cup group stage, Nigeria will surely secure a place in the last 16 with a win while a draw will also suffice if Iceland don’t beat group leaders Croatia with big margin.

For Argentines, they can only have the chance of progressing if they clinch a big win Nigeria.

Idowua said on the pre-match press conference that although he and his teammates loved to “watch the football games that Messi plays”, but “now he is playing against us so there is only one option for us.”

“Tuesday’s match has to be his last World Cup game in Russia,” he told reporters.

The match at Saint Petersburg Stadium marks the fifth World Cup clash between Argentina and Nigeria and Argentina won all the last four.

Regarding Nigeria’s tactics, the 26-year-old defender said they need to avoid making fouls inside and outside the box.

“Argentines are so good at free-kicks. We are going to play aggressive but we are going to avoid unnecessary fouls,” he said.

The Nigeria defender also warned his teammates against conceding a late goal. At the World Cup in Russia, many teams were defeated because of goals in the injury time.

“This World Cup has shown that you have to be prepared for the whole game because anything can happen in a football match. You have to be 100 percent concentrated every time on the pitch before the referee’s whistle,” he said.

Idowua played against Argentina in a friendly match last November, coming on as a half-time substitute and scoring Nigeria’s third goal in a 4-2 win.

He said Tuesday’s game is totally different because it’s a World Cup match which is crucial for both teams.

“It’s going to be a big and important game. For the football and for the teams,” Idowua  said, “Hopefully, we can get the job done and qualify from the group.”

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Sampaoli: Messi to have more of the ball against Nigeria

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli says star player Lionel Messi will see more of the ball in their crucial Group D match against Nigeria.

Argentina suffered a 3-0 loss against Croatia last Thursday, with captain Messi especially isolated, only touching the ball 20 times in the first half.

“I think that match was complicated for Leo, the structure of the game didn’t favor him,” Sampaoli told reporters during the pre-match press conference in Saint Petersburg.

“He didn’t get a lot of balls from midfield and that was a mistake. If he had the ball less than usual then it is because Argentina didn’t dominate or have that many opportunities. But we have worked on that and, for the good of Argentina, I am sure Lionel Messi will have the ball much more against Nigeria than in the previous match,” he added.

With only one point after two matches, Argentina are on the brink of an early exit from the World Cup. To advance to the knockout stage, the Albiceleste must beat Nigeria and hope Iceland don’t defeat Croatia in the other remaining Group D game.

“It’s been a tough week for us. After the last match, I took responsibility for that defeat. The next day, as a coach, all I thought about was winning,” Sampaoli acknowledged.

According to the Argentinian media, the coach and players have been at odds over Sampaoli’s constant changes in strategy and personnel. On that point, the 58-year-old was quick to defend his authority.

“I am totally convinced that team will go onto the pitch with great energy to secure a victory. There will be a new page in the history of the national squad,” he added. “We have to play the game with a lot of heart, and a lot of mental strength, to make things safe for us. Argentina’s World Cup starts tomorrow.”

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