Group F’s fifth match will be played between the slow starters, Nigeria and the already-qualified Argentina on Wednesday, June 25.
Argentina have not really hit the stride in the group stages, narrowly winning against the determined Iran courtesy a Lionel Messi curler, with the winner coming in injury time.
Nigeria on the other hand, are getting in the groove, having been criticized for their performance against a lowly Iran in their first match. They have their task cut out, however, if they want to qualify for the round of 16 and doing that against Argentina might not be favourable for them.
The African side delivered when it really mattered against a strong attacking unit like Bosnia-Herzegovina, albeit thanks also to a refereeing decision going in their favour.
Coach Stephen Keshi had gambled with his selection by putting a side which wasn’t exactly first choice, by dropping big names like Ike Uche and Sunday Mba.
In the second game though, a Nigerian team from the African Cup of Nations, showed up defending as a team and being patient to hit back at the right time. A good display will be instrumental in their build up to their crunch game against Argentina.
For Argentina, this tournament has not been exactly a cakewalk though they had a relatively manageable group to qualify from. They have qualified now, but the World Cup credentials have taken a hit after insipid displays in both the group matches.
Not taking anything away from Iran’s defensive efforts but with a team filled with world class individuals like Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero scraping through is like expecting an exam-topper to just manage to get a pass.
Messi has been instrumental in Argentina’s case for getting them out of mediocrity and pushing them towards victory. His goal against Iran should be considered as one of Messi’s international best.
The game should be very exciting with respect to Nigeria; it will be interesting to see how Keshi fields his side. He could look to the Iran match to pick a few tricks to frustrate Messi and co. He has a good front three with pacey wingers like Victor Moses and an intelligent forward in Peter Odemwingie.
Mba’s linkup play will be important and the midfield battle against Argentina’s Javier Mascherano will be quite a feast to watch. Once again Nigeria will be looking to John Obi Mikel for some creative inspiration which is very unusual considering his defensive role for his club, Chelsea.
Argentina’s case is a curious one, in the first game the tactical change which won them the first game did not work against the defensive Iranian setup. Coach Alejandro Sabella will be feeling lucky that both times his star-man, Messi bailed him out.
He will need to go back to drawing board and try bringing balance to the midfield which looks out of sorts. The attack also looks a bit disjointed still even with a healthy number of attempts in the game against Iran. Could this be the match where Argentina finall starts peaking?
A fun fact: If Nigeria lose 1-0 and Iran beat Bosnia 1-0, both Iran and Nigeria will end on 4 points. The goal-difference for both teams in that case will be 0, the number of goals scored by both will be 1 and the game between Iran and Nigeria had ended in a draw. So how will they decide who ends up second in the group? By drawing lots!
Under +2.5 goals in the game: 1/1 (Sky Bet)
Argentina lead 1-0 at halftime: 3/1 (Ladbrokes)