This fixture has the potential to be one of the clashes of the tournament so far. An underwhelming Argentina side have left themselves on the verge of an embarrassing early exit after gaining just a point from their first two fixtures.
Nigeria threw Lionel Messi’s side a lifeline by beating Iceland in their last game, leaving this group wide open. It means Argentina can all but ensure qualification to the knockout stages with a convincing win here.
It’s not going to come easy though as Argentina have huffed and puffed but have certainly not blown anyone away. The Super Eagles meanwhile struggled in their opener but looked impressive in their victory over Iceland, with two-goal hero Ahmed Musa netting one of the goals of the tournament.
Nigeria qualified in a pretty convincing manner despite been drawn against an impressive Cameroon side. Their warm-up games for this World Cup didn’t exactly instil confidence though as they were beaten by Serbia, England and the Czech Republic and held to a draw against DR Congo.
They carried that form into the opening game and looked second best against Croatia but finally showed a sense of urgency against Iceland. With Musa reinstated into the starting lineup, Nigeria possessed a greater purpose in their attack and made Iceland pay with a convincing 2-0 victory.
They’ll enter this fixture with a slight advantage and will be hoping to capitalise on an Argentina side who have already broken national records for all the wrong reasons this tournament.
Les Albiceleste limped through CONMEBOL qualifiers, very nearly failing to reach this World Cup altogether. Some late dramatics guided Jorge Sampaoli’s side to Russia but performances have been less than convincing from the South American giants.
They were held to a draw in their fixture against Iceland and were also easily outclassed by Croatia in the end, losing 3-0. Argentina have one last chance to spare their blushes and get a much needed World Cup victory, but there is still much work required before they are fit to enter the knockout stages, with France likely to be their first opponents if they get through.
Nigeria and Argentina are familiar opposition and have actually met five times competitively, including encounters in the last two World Cups. Argentina have had the better of these competitive fixtures, having won four and drawn one. Nigeria have bested the Argentines twice in friendly fixtures though, scoring four goals on both occasions.
Their last competitive meeting was in the group stage at the 2014 World Cup with Argentina emerging the victors in a tense game. Musa was on the scoresheet twice for Nigeria that day with Messi bagging a brace for his side too. Marcos Rojo split the difference with the winning goal to make it 3-2.
The two sides also met as recently as November in a friendly in Russia which the Super Eagles comfortably won. Ever Banega and Sergio Aguero gave their side a 2-0 lead before a surge from Nigeria saw them score four times to win the day.
With 11 goals in the last two fixtures between these sides and so much riding on this game, it should be a classic.
Nigeria (3-5-2): Uzoho, Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Omeru, Moses, Ndidi, Obi, Etebo, Ebuehi, Musa, Iheanacho.
Argentina (3-4-3): Cabellero, Rojo, Otamendi, Tagliafico, Pavon, Banega, Mascherano, Acuna, Messi, Aguero, Dybala.
It hasn’t looked good for Argentina for a long time and Messi will surely be questioning his decision to come out of retirement. As many as eight players are being tipped to announce their own international retirement from the Argentinian squad following this tournament with many of them already beyond their prime years.
They’ll not want to end those international careers on such a low point though after frequent near misses, having lost in the final of their last three major tournaments. On paper, it’s a mismatch, which only signifies the talent Argentina have at their disposal, there are plenty of game changers in that side and Sampaoli just needs one of them to deliver.
Predicting this World Cup is increasingly becoming a fool’s game but it’s too soon to write off the 2014 runners-up. Nigeria should make one hell of a game of it, but Argentina might just edge it, in a repeat of the result in their last competitive meeting.
Prediction: Nigeria 2-3 Argentina