Argentina’s World Cup campaign is up and running, courtesy of a Gabriel Heinze header early on to give them a 1-0 win against Nigeria on Saturday. It wasn’t a match with very many highlights, and those that there were invariably involved Lionel Messi. If you’re at all interested in it of course, you’ve either already seen it or have it taped (in which case you shouldn’t have come here if you didn’t want to know the score), but for the sake of posterity, here’s the goal – how long it’ll stay on YouTube of course is anyone’s guess – and my own initial thoughts on the match.
World Cup South Africa 2010, Group B, Saturday 12th June: Argentina 1 – 0 Nigeria
The abiding memory of the game, hopefully, will be that for once Lionel Messi didn’t get roundly slated for not turning water into wine. In fact, quite the opposite – whenever he got the ball he caused the Nigerian defence problems, which was more than could be said for anyone else in a blue-and-white shirt (Carlos Tevez’s lively performance was also a joy to watch, but Messi’s threat was more consistent). The bar I was watching burst into a chant of ‘Messi, Messi, Messi’ during the second half and the commentators, rightly, loved him. His interplay with Tevez was neat, and he linked well with the midfield.
The third member of the forward line, Gonzalo Higuaín, must be fearing for his starting place in the next match though. Higuaín missed two great chances – one from a Messi centre, the other from a Tevez through ball – that would have made the match, respectively, 1-0 and 2-0. It was impossible to avoid the thought that, with Diego Milito on the pitch, it might have been a lot more comfortable. Higuaín’s had a great season for Madrid, but his slump in goalscoring form came towards the end of it – whereas Milito endured one too, he picked the pace back up again for the business end of the season. Coming off the bench, Milito didn’t see a lot of the ball, but by that point Argentina had already lost a lot of the momentum gathered during the first half.
Jonás Gutiérrez tried hard and shouldn’t be blamed for Nigeria’s penetration down his side of the pitch through the pacy Chinedu Ogbuke. The fact is, if Maradona wanted a player to do what he asked Jonás to do both today and against Canada, he should have named Javier Zanetti in the squad. Or, for that matter, anyone who’s used to playing as a right back. The introduction of Nicolás Burdisso to fill that void was a sign that he realised it was there, but it came in the 85th minute, by which time against higher-calibre opposition it might have been exploited to better effect. Predictably, Jonás was the only Argentine booked (well alright, it wasn’t so predictable that no-one else would be, but you know what I mean), for a challenge on Ogbuke.
Javier Mascherano summed it up afterwards; ‘There are always things to improve on, but by and large the positives outweighed the negatives.’ The opponents Argentina were most nervous about have been safely dispatched, but for now all that we’ve learned is that Lionel Messi is capable of playing very well indeed
Sorry, I forgot to complete that sentence:
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