Millennium Post

REDEMPTION: Messi, Rojo exorcise World Cup demons, Argentina enter last 16

After recording a draw and a loss against Iceland and Croatia respectively in their first two group games, Argentina were left needing a win against Nigeria in St. Petersburg to ensure qualification to the knockout stage.

And they did just that courtesy of a first World Cup 2018 goal for captain Messi and a late winner from defender Marcos Rojo. But the South Americans did not have things all their own way. Messi deftly took down a beautiful through ball from Ever Banega from near the halfway line on his left thigh before taking a touch and then firing right-footed past Super Eagles keeper Francis Uzoho to make it 1-0 after 14 minutes. The goal made Messi the first and only player to score a World Cup goal as a teenager, in his twenties and in his thirties. The Barcelona star had earlier gone close but missed his penalty against Iceland in the group opener.

Argentina went into the break in front, but soon after the restart found themselves in hot water when Mascherano was penalised for wrapping his hands around Leon Balogun in the area while defending a corner. The Nigeria midfielder collapsed into a heap, and Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir consulted VAR before awarding the spot kick, which appeared to be the right decision.

When the dust settled, Victor Moses, perhaps the coolest man in the stadium, coolly slotted the spot kick home to equalize on the night, and put Argentina's hopes of salvaging qualification from an abject start in serious jeopardy.

As time ticked away, Gabriel Mercado hopefully crossed the ball into the area, where Rojo slotted a cool side-foot finish into the left-hand corner of the goal from around 15 yards out, to send Argentina's fans into raptures.

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