by Rotimi Daramola @papi_thegreat and Segun Ayoade @kjsheggs
Since you probably watched it, there’s almost nothing new about Nigeria’s game against Iceland to talk about. The Super Eagles needed the win and got it. As things stand, they now have three points in Group D and, for the first time in quite a while in its football history, their fate lies in our their hands.
Up next for Nigeria is the game against Argentina. To avoid any form of complexities, Nigeria needs to win that game outright. After that, talks about facing either France/Denmark/Australia in the second round can begin – depending on how the final group stage games go.
A draw won’t be a totally bad thing too.
With just one point from their last two games, the Argentines have not had a dream start to their FIFA World Cup campaign. It’s totally different from what they had in 2014 when they reached the final of the tournament.
In the final games of the group stages, Croatia will be looking to seal top spot in Group D when they take on Iceland. Nigeria and Argentina, on the other hand, will be fighting for qualification and all else at stake. But what makes this game the most important one in the world?
Nigeria can end Messi’s international football career
Remember that 2005 FIFA World Youth championship in Holland? The one in which Nigeria defeated Ukraine, Holland and Morocco on their way to a final that they would eventually lose to a certain Argentine team that had Lionel Messi in it?
That’s where it all started for Messi on the international scene. After converting two penalties in that game, he not only won the trophy but also won the Golden Ball of the tournament, ahead of John Obi Mikel and Taiye Taiwo. On 24 June 2005, his 18th birthday, Messi signed his first contract with Barcelona as a senior team player.
That is just part of the long history between both sides – especially an Argentine team with Messi in it. Who can forget that final at the Beijing Olympics in 2012?
One way or the other, it all started for Messi (at least the Argentine version) against Nigeria. And with the situation of things, it could as well end against Nigeria, with a player like Mikel particularly having a score to settle, 13 years on from that final in Holland.
Lionel Messi: The GOAT that never won the World Cup?
Lionel Messi has won all there is to win with his Barcelona side. With Xavi and Iniesta, Messi conquered all before him at club level, taking him several levels above every other player at the time.
Representing his country, Messi has not had the same luck. The same trophy that made names like Diego Maradona and Pele into household names in football is still missing from his trophy cabinet.
In 2014, the Germans stopped Messi from winning it. In a few days, the game between Nigeria and Argentina could play a huge role in determining whether or not Messi will ever win a FIFA World Cup and be named in the same bracket with the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele, et al.
Mikel vs. Messi: The Grand Finale
2005 was a major year for both players. After the U20 Championship, one went on to become a huge part of Barcelona’s history while the other, after much drama, joined Chelsea.
But before that, both players had clashed in a final where Lionel Messi was gifted two penalties. It was a final in which Lionel Messi converted both penalties, and ‘stole’ the trophy (and the Golden Ball award) from Mikel Obi.
Fast-forward 13 years after and both players, having enjoyed different careers, face off once again. For Mikel, this is somewhat of a shot at redemption; a chance to revenge that final that was lost more than a decade ago.
For Messi, winning this game is the only way to not bow out in shame. In 2005, he scored two penalties against Nigeria. Since the 2018 World Cup began, Nigeria have conceded two penalties – via VAR. Will VAR help Messi to yet another win over Nigeria?
Another accolade for the jersey of the century
Before the World Cup, there was plenty of talk about Nigeria’s jersey. Most of them, after much praise, usually ended in skepticism about how Nigeria would fare in the ‘Group of Death’ with majority giving the Super Eagles little next to no chance of qualifying.
Qualification is still very much up for grabs in Group D. But that Nigerian jersey is on its way to earning even more accolades, especially if Nigeria wins this one. Yes, Nike got more out of the deal than Nigeria did. But a win over Argentina will definitely mean more for Nigeria… especially if they go farther than the second half.
Group D of the 2018 World Cup has really been a group of death. First the Croatians put Nigeria and Argentina to the sword. Then Iceland killed Argentina’s hopes of the first three points of the tournament after Hannes Halldorsson saved Lionel Messi’s spot-kick.
Judging by events at the World Cup so far, here are some conclusions:
- If Croatia defeated Nigeria 2-0 and then defeated Argentina 3-0, Nigeria has a better football team that the Argentines.
- If Argentina could only manage a draw against Iceland, the same one Nigeria defeated by a margin of 2-0, then Nigeria is definitely better than Argentina.
But all of these is just paper talk; drawing conclusions from what has happened in this tournament so far. In the past meetings against Argentina at the World Cup, it has always ended in defeat for the Super Eagles (in 2002, 2010, 2014).
A thousand and one hanging questions
Imagine what would happen if Lionel Messi’s Argentina gets sent out of the World Cup by Nigeria? Imagine Lionel Messi not being able to continue past the group stages? He may not be the poster boy of the tournament but his early exit will sure upend some markets around the world.
Betting odds will shift ground. Bookmakers may have to scramble around for a while to ‘fix’ things. Barcelona fans will be happy. Cristiano Ronaldo fans will even be happier – especially if he bows out without scoring a goal.
What if, for all the celebrations after the Iceland win, Nigeria, as always at the World Cup, lose to Argentina? What if…?
Nigeria vs. Argentina is already a legendary game at the World Cup. This edition of the rivalry has too much at stake. And that’s why, in the few days leading to the game, it is the most important football game in the world.
What do you think? Share your thoughts with us by leaving us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
Author: For The Goal
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