After qualifying for the World Cup by the skin of their teeth, Argentina will face a stern test against 2013 Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria on Tuesday.
Thankfully for fans of the Albiceleste, though, their captain is Lionel Messi. Messi, often accused of not caring about playing for his country enough, grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and scored a hat-trick to ensure Argentina’s safe passage to the World Cup – the whole nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Their match against Nigeria offers fans of Argentinian football a more relaxed environment in which to watch their team play. Despite the fact that Argentina have two more friendly matches scheduled in March with two additional ones yet to be arranged in January and February, Jorge Sampaoli will be treating this match against Nigeria as a serious test of his side.
It was only a late Sergio Aguero header that gave them the victory against Russia last week so the Argentine manager will be hoping that his team can deliver a more emphatic performance against the Nigerians on Tuesday.
Nigeria is a country trying to drag itself out of a national recession and the ramifications are being felt in every corner of the country. The country’s footballing culture has not been spared with the result that a once-burgeoning national team has suffered in recent years, a decline culminating in a failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations this year – the competition they won in the tournament immediately preceding.
Nigeria comes into the game off the back of a 1-1 draw with Algeria in World Cup qualifying – a game that they did not need to win, having already booked their place in Russia next summer. This will be their first game against a non-African side since they played Luxembourg in May last year.
La Albiceleste looked on course for a disappointing stalemate after Akinfeev denied both Di Maria and Aguero in open play from what looked certain goalscoring efforts. After Lionel Messi had a delicate chip cleared off the line by Konstantin Rausch, it looked like it was going to be Russia’s day.
In the end, though, Akinfeev could only parry a late strike from Sergio Aguero straight back at him, leaving the relieved Manchester City forward with a simple header into a mostly open net.
In a dead rubber game between Nigeria and Algeria in the CAF World Cup qualifying groups, it was Algeria who had the last laugh. Despite going down to a thumping strike outside the box from John Ogu in the second half, the Algerians were handed a soft penalty by Gabonese referee Eric Otogo which Yacine Brahimi converted.
Even more galling to the Nigerians was the fact that Brahimi should have been sent off ten minutes earlier when he headbutted an opponent. The referee waved away the Nigerian protests and, in the end, may have been ha With Lionel Messi returning to Barcelona after
the victory to Russia after picking up an injury, this will give Jorge Sampaoli the chance to experiment with a lineup which is missing his midfield maestro.
Often struggling to play with Messi in the side, Paulo Dybala will take the number 10 spot on Tuesday and will hope to put in a good performance to give Sampaoli something of a selection headache.
In the run-up to this international break, Nigeria Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr omitted some big names from the squad with Victor Moses and Isaac Success the most notable absentees.
With the likes of Moses Simon, Elderson Echiejile and Odion Ighalo injured, Anthony Nwakaeme should get the nod to play up front. Where Nigeria have prefered playing two up front through qualifying, against Argentina they are likely to favour a lone striker in order to give themselves more coverage elsewhere.
what are your predictions for the glamour game?