Diego Maradona's World Cup debut as a coach ended in a victory as Lionel Messi
started to demonstrate he could transform his club form at Barcelona to the
Gabriel Heinze headed in the only goal after five minutes but Messi, so often
unable to reproduce the Nou Camp sparkle on national team duty, was his team's
star. However he and his team-mates were unable to make the margin of victory a more
convincing one as Vincent Enyeama in the Nigeria goal denied them time and
Whether Argentina could waste so many chances against better sides and get away
with it remains to be seen, but for now Maradona must be satisfied to have put
three points on the board in Group B.
Messi made a lively start and one mesmerising run from deep saw him ghost past
three Nigeria defenders and pick out Gonzalo Higuain with a low cross, but the
Real Madrid striker sidefooted an easy chance wide from close range. The Barcelona forward then had a goalbound curling shot tipped over by Enyeama.
But from the resulting corner Argentina went ahead, with five minutes played.
Juan Sebastian Veron swung the ball in from the right and Marseille defender
Heinze, running towards the penalty spot, sent a powerful diving header into the
top left corner.
Messi was then allowed to cut in from the right, leaving Chinedu Obasi on his
backside and his curling left-footed shot was destined for goal until Enyeama at
full stretch parried it away.
Messi and Carlos Tevez were causing confusion for the Nigerians by taking turns
to drop deep and move forward, and when the Manchester City man received the
ball in a deeper position after 20 minutes his through-ball found Higuain
bursting into the box but Enyeama dashed out to make the block.
Sani Kaita miscued an attempted volley wide for the Africans who stepped up the
pressure for a short period. Neat passing from Dickson Etuhu and Ayegbeni Yakubu
created an opening for Obasi but his low cross was just too far ahead of Yakubu
as the Everton man tried to slot it home.
Messi again tested Enyeama to the limit with another curling effort destined
for the right-hand corner of the goal but the goalkeeper stretched out his left
hand to claw the ball away.
Walter Samuel headed a presentable chance over the top from a Veron corner six
minutes into the second half and the Inter Milan defender almost released Angel
Di Maria with a long ball but the Benfica man could not bring it under control.
Messi won a corner after a pacy dribble took him away from the Nigeria defence,
with Chidi Odiah blocking his effort. A swift break at the other end saw
substitute Obafemi Martins square the ball to Kaita, but his 30-yard shot was
far too ambitious and sailed over.
The game was becoming more stretched and Tevez strode forward before picking
out Messi, whose low left-footed shot was just wide and the Barca man then teed
up Higuain, whose shot was again blocked by the ever-alert Enyeama.
Argentina's failure to kill the game off almost cost them as Peter Odemwingie
played the ball inside to left-back Taye Taiwo, and his thunderous low effort
had the beating of Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero but just skidded wide of
the right post.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero then had to punch clear a shot from Martins
as the 'Jabulani' World Cup ball threatened to make a mug of him with its
changes of movement in the air.
It was clearly not going to be Messi's afternoon to score as Enyeama spread
himself to block after a wonderful interchange with Di Maria as the game entered
its final 10 minutes.
Nigeria could have levelled seconds later when Yakubu's cross from the right
found substitute Kalu Uche, but the Almeria midfielder struggled to get over the
ball and could not keep his left-footed shot down, and Yakubu drilled another
shot over the top from long range with three minutes left. But it was Argentina's day as the early Heinze effort proved the difference.