The 2014 World Cup pit long-standing rivals Argentina and Nigeria together in Group F alongside Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran.
Renewed hostilities meant the Super Eagles got another chance of avenging slim 1-0 defeats by the Albiceleste in 2002 and 2010, while the South Americans were out to make it four successive wins over the West Africans at the global showpiece, a run that began with a 2-1 success in 1994.
One of the major sub-plots before kick-off at Estadio Beira-Rio was Lionel Messi and Vincent Enyeama facing off again, four years after the shot-stopper incredibly denied the maestro on four occasions.
Piece on @GoalAfrica: Relived Vincent Enyeama’s outstanding showing vs Argentina at the 2010 World Cup. @vinpee produced one of the best-ever individual performances at the showpiece to thwart Lionel Messi multiple times. https://t.co/2H5orqaip4— Seye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) April 1, 2020
This time, though, the Barcelona man came out on top in their duel, finally beating the Super Eagles' goalkeeper twice in the eventual 3-2 win.
After the goalie’s heroics in South Africa, it was always going to take something special to get the better of his nemesis, and the quality of Messi’s strikes proved it: the first in the third-minute was hit ferociously into the roof of the net, while the second, just before half-time, was a well-placed free-kick that Enyeama didn’t attempt to save.
With Nigeria conceding even sooner than they’d done at Ellis Park four years ago, they certainly needed to be braver if they were to mount a greater challenge against the two-time world champions.
About 262 minutes of game time had passed since Samson Siasia’s eighth-minute strike opened the scoring in the pair’s first encounter and the Eagles were staring at the possibility of not scoring in three games on the spin against their opponents…before Ahmed Musa took up the gauntlet.
The wideman shouldered responsibility and rose to the occasion by netting a brace to twice pull Stephen Keshi’s men level against Alejandro Sabella’s troops. In so doing, a bit of Nigerian history was made as the then-CSKA Moscow attacker became the first player from the West African nation to score twice in one game at the showpiece (he matched the achievement against Iceland in 2018 for a 2-0 win).
It was a feat that had eluded greats such as Rashidi Yekini (the nation’s first scorer at the finals and all-time marksman), Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike, Finidi George and Mutiu Adepoju. Two-time African Player of the Year Nwankwo Kanu never scored at the finals, likewise Jay-Jay Okocha, but Musa had surpassed their return and even added another for good measure.
In truth, it’ll have made for even better reading for the Super Eagles’ supporters had they picked up any sort of result against the side they wanted to conquer so badly, however it wasn’t to be.
As it turned out, the forward’s goals didn’t give fans bragging rights, still it doesn’t take anything away from Musa’s individual brilliance on the day to score two well taken goals.
First goal : Barely a minute after Messi stunned Nigeria in the opening three minutes of the encounter; a turnover saw Michael Babatunde run with the ball from inside his half before releasing the ball in the nick of time for Musa.
The winger was already making a run infield from his wide-left position to receive the pass, and what followed was a sublime strike. Pablo Zabaleta, uncharacteristically, allowed the CSKA man on the inside – rather than show him onto his weaker foot and to the byline – and the forward took advantage with a curled effort that beat the outstretched Sergio Romero between the sticks.
Musa had responded within a minute to pull the less-fancied African nation level, to the joy of over 150 million people.
However, the favourites netted just before half-time through Messi’s stunning free-kick to lead 2-1 at the break.
Second goal : While the Jos-born player’s first will probably make more highlight reels, the second showcased his in-game intelligence.
Having released a pass into Emmanuel Emenike, he made a forward run beyond the midfield and defence of the Argentines (also believing in the burly frontman’s strength and hold-up play) rather than stand still and receive a return pass to feet.
Fortunately, Nigeria’s main striker didn’t disappoint. He held off Ezequiel Garay and played in his teammate who finished with aplomb.
Two things made Musa’s second a fascinating watch: the first was observing how Emenike had dragged Garay out of position, thus creating a gaping distance between the left centre-back and Marcos Rojo at left-back. The wideman spotted this after releasing the pass and actually changed the course of his run in expectation of getting a return pass.
The second was having the composure and presence of mind to steady himself, pause for a moment before finishing coolly.
While he wore an annoyed look after his first, there was an immediate outpouring of emotion following his second in the 47th minute.
However, disappointingly, the Super Eagles’ joy was ephemeral as the Albiceleste went ahead through Rojo three minutes later after Emenike inexcusably lost the defender from an Ezequiel Lavezzi corner, much to Enyeama’s intense irritation.
It’s particularly noteworthy that Argentina’s winning goals in 2002 (Gabriel Batistuta) and 2010 (Gabriel Heinze) were also from poorly defended set-pieces.
Like the South Americans’ winner in 2014, the opener was equally avoidable.
Based on first-hand experience, Messi must surely think Musa is one of the world's greatest players. https://t.co/UpDUN0b2mB— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) August 3, 2016
Osaze Odemwingie had failed to track Angel Di Maria’s forward run, and the wideman ran into the space vacated by right-back Efe Ambrose, who tucked in to be closer to his centre-back. Javier Mascherano noticed this and duly passed to the attacker whose initial shot was stopped by a combination of Enyeama and the post, but the rebound fell on a plate for Messi.
The White and Sky Blues’ talisman was named Man of the Match, at Musa’s expense, after an impressive all-round performance at the Beira Rio Stadium. That decision may have been different had Nigeria managed to hold on or even nicked the three points, but we’ll never know.
History-making Musa took the game in Porto Alegre by the scruff of the neck, yet it didn’t suffice for the three-time African champions who, yet again, failed to end their Argentina hoodoo at the World Cup.