By JAMES ONYANGO MWAMBA
Tuesday June 26, 2018
This combination of pictures created on June 24, 2018 shows Argentina's forward Lionel Messi (left) in Moscow on June 16, 2018, and Nigeria's striker Ahmed Musa in London on June 2, 2018. PHOTO | ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP
Nigeria will be looking to striker Ahmed Musa for goals when the Super Eagles line up against 2014 World Cup losing finalists Argentina in their third Group ‘D’ match tonight from 9pm at Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg.
The three-time African champions need at least a draw against Argentina Tuesday, and will be hoping that group leaders Croatia beat Iceland for them to reach the last 16.
Coming from a 2-0 loss to Croatia in their first match of the tournament played on June 16, the Leicester City striker who is on loan at CSKA Moscow scored twice on Friday to help Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0 in their second group match at Volgograd Arena.
With the teams level 0-0 in the 48th minute, Nigeria launched a quick counter-attack from a throw-in. Chelsea forward Victor Moses teed up Musa from the right wing, and the latter controlled the ball with his right leg before scoring a beautiful goal past the Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.
Musa’s second goal was as stylish as the first. The forward collected a high ball sent deep from his team’s half, outran Iceland defender Kári Arnason then rounded Halldorsson to score in an empty net.
It is that kind of performance Nigeria will need to overcome an Argentina side led by Lionel Messi who is out to redeem its image in the tournament.
Messi celebrated his 31st birthday at the weekend with thousands of fans cutting a gigantic cake at the team’s base camp in a party organised by the town of Bronnitsy, near Moscow, where the Argentina football team have their base camp.
Nigeria will be out to capitalise on reports of unrest in Argentina’s camp over their poor run in the tournament as under-fire coach Jorge Sampaoli facing unrest from key players.
In a press conference on Saturday, Javier Mascherano denied any rifts in Argentina camp.
“Our relationship with Sampaoli is normal, but if we feel uncomfortable, we will raise it. Otherwise we would be hypocrites. The opposite would be to harm the team, we must seek the collective benefit — we have 23 in the squad,” he said.
That victory over Iceland put Nigeria second in the group with three points behind Croatia who are on four points after beating Argentina 3-0 in their second match on Thursday.
A loss to Argentina, who drew 1-1 with Iceland, will send Super Eagles crushing out of the tournament.
Argentina themselves must win today’s match then wait for the result of the match between Croatia and Iceland to determine who reaches the round of 16.
Both Iceland and Argentina are on one point each from their 1-1 draw in their first group match on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow. However, Iceland are third on better goal aggregate.
Iceland play Croatia in the other match of the group at Rostove Arena in Rostov-on-Don from 9pm.
Nigeria and Senegal have been left to fly Africa’s flag in the tournament after Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt lost two group matches to exit the tournament.
In other matches, France will be seeking to finish on top of Group ‘C’ when they play Denmark in their final group match from 5pm at Luzhniki Stadium as Australia tackle Peru in Sochi.