PORTO ALEGRE: Nigeria face Lionel Messi’s already qualified Argentina in Porto Alegre today with a first appearance in the last 16 since 1998 tantalisingly within the African champions’ grasp.
Tens of thousands of Messi fans are expected to make the trip up from Argentina to this southern port city for the closing Group F clash where a draw would secure the Nigerians the all important runners-up spot after Peter Odemwingie’s goal against Bosnia-Hercegovina in Cuiaba on Saturday ended the west Africans’ nine-match World Cup winless run.
Defeat to Argentina, who sit top with wins over Iran and Bosnia, could still see Stephen Keshi’s men prolong their stay in Brazil, if Iran fail to beat Bosnia up in Salvador.
And FIFA might even have to get out their straws for the drawing of lots should Iran win 1-0 and Nigeria lose by the same score, leaving the sides inseparable on points, goal difference, number of goals and head-to-head.
Messi, who turns 27 on Tuesday, and his team-mates have a significant incentive to notch up their third win here and top the table as that would mean likely avoiding Didier Deschamps’s impressive France for a second round date instead with Group E’s runners-up, likely to Ecuador or Switzerland, although Honduras could still snatch that honour.
The two-time former champions may have failed to set the 2014 World Cup stage alight in their opening forays but Messi predicts the Argentine pot is slowly coming to the boil.
“We are not showing what we can do, but with a run of games I think we will get there,” he said.
As Nigeria are surely about to discover. today’s rivals have met on three previous occasions at the World Cup, with the Argentines prevailing each time, but Odemwingie says his team can cause Messi and company problems in the Beira-Rio stadium.
Odemwingie recounted a chat with a Brazilian fan on the street who told him that Nigeria would face Brazil in the final.
“I told this guy ‘sure, why not? We’ve got brilliant players, we haven’t reached our full potential yet’.”
The Stoke City player added: “We have a resilient defence, a creative midfield, and with our attack line we could bring problems to any defence in the world,”
Veteran centre-back Joseph Yobo, who will earn his 100th cap if selected again, hailed Messi as “a legend” before quickly adding “but he’s only human” -- something Albiceleste supporters might argue with. “I never thought that we wouldn’t make the Round of 16,” he stated.
On facing the South Americans he added: “We need to work hard for the game against Argentina. I have the players.”AFP