Nigeria has one foot in the second round of the World Cup but face their toughest test yet in the form of star-studded Argentina.
Even defeat could see Nigeria into the next round if Iran don’t get three points from Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they will want to prove a point against this star-studded Argentina side whatever the circumstances.
On paper there is only one winner in this game, but Argentina have lacked a certain urgency and cutting edge in the tournament so far, save for the brilliant Lionel Messi who been every part the match-winner his reputation suggests.
Nigeria rode their luck a little in defeating Bosnia-Herzegovina in their last match, the European side had a good goal erroneously chalked off for offside, and missed a number of other opportunities.
But the Super Eagles held on to place themselves in a mighty formidable position to make the second round, and for a side that likes to build momentum through major finals, perhaps this third game against Argentina comes just at the right time.
Any sort of positive result will give them huge confidence for the next stage, and have the fans believing again in a side that came into the finals in poor form and taking criticism from all sides. It is amazing what a good 90 minutes can do for a team.
While Argentina have no injury worries to speak of, Nigeria are sweating on forward Victor Moses and defender Godfrey Oboabona, both vital cogs at opposite ends of the pitch in this team.
Oboabona is the most doubtful and should he be unable to play it will likely mean a 99^th international cap for veteran Joseph Yobo.
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – A completely obvious pick, I hear you cry!
And you are right, but in many ways Messi has carried Argentina through their first two matches, scoring winners against both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. He is everything to this team, without him they are decent but unspectacular.**Control Messi, you control the game. Easier said than done though.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) – Obi Mikel will likely have the task of tracking Lionel Messi and if he can keep the Barcelona star in check, it will be a huge boost for the Super Eagles. Obi Mikel will have experience of playing against the little maestro with Chelsea, but most of his Nigeria teammates will not.
WHAT THEY SAY
Alejandro Sabella (Argentina striker) – “With Messi, everything’s possible.” Be warned, Nigeria.
Stephen Keshi (Nigeria coach) – “Argentina are world class. They are good and they have many good players. We will rely on our teamwork.
Teamwork will see us through. We hope to qualify and move on. I plead with Nigerians to always be patient. The way they wrote us off after the match against Iran was disturbing. Let’s hope we get it right again on Wednesday.”
Date: Wednesday, June 25
Kick-off: 18h00 (GMT)
Venue: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Referee:Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)