It has been deemed redemption time for Lionel Messi and this Argentina side that he captains. The same can be said for Nigeria, who have lost to Argentina on all four occasions they have met at the FIFA World Cup.
The pains that Argentina football has caused Nigeria are also plenty. From beating a Mikel Obi-led team at the 2005 U-20 FIFA World Cup to denying the U-23s another football gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, Nigeria’s history with Argentina has been intertwined since 1994.
The recurring theme is Messi, arguably the best footballer in the world, but one who has not won any international title for his country apart from the 2008 Olympic football gold medal.
“As much as we love to watch Messi play we [Nigeria] want to win,” said Brian Idowu at the pre-match press conference. “And we have to keep in mind that Argentina is not just Messi. They have a great team.”
“The whole team is frustrated, not just Leo [Messi],” said the 145-times capped Javier Mascherano to Fifa TV.
“We can’t put all this on Leo. The team is frustrated because things are not turning out well, but we have to live with that frustration and learn how to overcome it.
“We know that difficult situations may arise and we have to surpass them. We can’t just stay down from what strikes us first and quit. It is an internal battle and we have to defeat it.”
Jorge Sampaoli at Argentina’s press conference believes his team can start their Russia 2018 campaign afresh against Nigeria. “We have to play the game with a lot of heart, and a lot of mental strength, to make things safe for us. Argentina’s World Cup starts tomorrow.”
Nigeria has defeated Argentina in two friendlies – scoring four goals, but on both occasions, in 2011 and 2017, Messi has been absent. Nigeria has not beaten an Argentina team in which Messi played.
”We have faced them and played them with two styles and formations,” continued Sampaoli at the press conference. “They have very relevant players with a lot of experience such as [Victor] Moses and the team in the second half of the matches they tend to make the difference from the physical standpoint, and they tend to play from box to box.
”That makes them a very difficult opponent if you can’t dominate the game, so for us Argentina we will have to control the game.”
For Franco Armani, who is expected to replace Willy Caballero in goal, faith will play a defining part. “Regarding the team and how we feel – we feel very good indeed.
“This is an opportunity – God has given us this opportunity and tomorrow, we might secure our qualification for the round of 16. We all have the right mindset, we are convinced we can do this, we have great faith, we have optimism and we are going to face the match tomorrow with faith and confidence we can win, we will win and will secure a good result.”
“We have a good mix in the team, players that can hold the ball and players that are really fast. Ahmed Musa brought speed for us in the last game and it helped us to succeed. Hopefully, we can keep on playing like this because this is what we always wanted.” Nigerians are expecting this team will consign Argentina to elimination this evening and that the Eagles will progress to the round of 16.