He’s had a relatively poor World Cup thus far but Lionel Messi scored arguably the best goal of the competition with a sublime finish.
The spotlight was on Messi as his Argentina side battled for a place in the Round of 16, knowing only a win would see them through.
On this occasion, Messi was not a one-man band. For once, the burden was shared.
Marcos Rojo – fortunate to not concede a first-half penalty for a high boot – appeared from nowhere to offer salvation when everything appeared lost for Argentina.
Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s charges came into this anticipated contest on the back of widespread reports of mutiny. They had been sparked by Thursday’s 3-0 humbling served up by Croatia.
On that night, Messi, uncharacteristically, was missing in action. Lost in the dumbfounding switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation that was not fit for purpose.
This followed the opening 1-1 draw against Iceland in which the Barcelona icon had been everywhere, and delivered only a pained second-half penalty miss.
On Tuesday night, they went ahead on 14 minutes as the great man provided the requisite control from a perfect Banega pass of pure beauty. The supreme Sevilla centre midfielder should not had been forced to wait until then for his first World Cup start.
But then, retreat followed and Nigeria knew that only a draw was needed.
Mascherano’s gift was duly taken. Argentina stuttered as ignominy awaited.
The likes of Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain – again guilty of an alarming miss – have all previously stumbled in Messi’s shadow. The great man carried them through qualifying, as he’d done towards four previous final defeats at World Cups and Copa Americas.
Then Rojo arrived late to fire Argentina into the next round. The dream, somehow, remains alive.
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