Saint Petersburg (AFP) – Lionel Messi put Argentina on course to qualify for the World Cup last 16 with his first goal of the tournament against Nigeria on Tuesday as the two-time former winners earned a 1-0 half-time lead.
Messi missed a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and was largely bypassed in a 3-0 thrashing by Croatia that saw calls for Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli to be sacked before their final group game in Saint Petersburg.
Sampaoli made five changes from the Croatia game, with veterans of the Albiceleste’s run to the final four years ago Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria returning, but it was the recall of Ever Banega in midfield that provided the launchpad for Messi.
The Sevilla midfielder’s brilliant pass over the top of the Nigerian defence in the 14th minute picked out Messi’s run perfectly.
After cushioning the ball on his thigh, the five-time world player of the year erased the frustrations of his World Cup so far with an arrowed right-foot finish into the far corner.
Messi also saw a free-kick come back off the post, but Argentina’s lead remains a precarious one.
With Iceland being held 0-0 by Croatia in the other game in Group D, victory will book Argentina a last-16 date with France on Saturday.
However, one goal for Iceland or Nigeria as it stands would see Argentina crash out.
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