With a star-studded cast that included the likes of Diego Milito and Maxí Rodriguez coming off the bench (which national team wouldn’t like to have players like these on their side?), Argentina dominated the entire game but couldn’t score the tranquilizer, much due to Enyeama’s (Nigeria’s goalkeeper) stellar performance.
The South Americans got off to a fast and furious start while managing to create several chances. With a corner kick in the 6th minute they were able to score the game’s first and only goal; veteran Verón crossed it in and defender Gabriel Heinze was able to drive a header home, into the corner of Nigeria’s goal. More finesse than power, but it is hard to explain how the African defenders left Heinze alone in the box.
Argentina were exchanging the ball with ease and Nigeria kept eyeing the counter-attack. Walter Samuel almost scored an own goal and that was actually Nigeria’s best chance in the first half. The green team were not able to deliver the final pass and their midfield and defense were shaky throughout. Messi and Higuaín had chances in the 18th and 21st minutes but Enyeama came through for his side. There is a reason why FIFA considered him “Player of the Match”. Incredible if we consider that he plays in the Israeli league. In fact, all three Nigerian goalkeepers play in Israel, which is strange.
The first half ended with Messi having another chance (another great save by Enyeama to a crossed shot), Argentina in solid control and the feeling that Nigeria would have to do more in the 2nd half, they would have to risk more and push the tempo.
The 2nd half wasn’t as good as the first one, with Argentina going with a strategy of ball possession and Nigeria trying to get the equalizer by way of counter-attack.
Messi almost scored right in the beginning of the second half but the ball just went a little wide. Three substitutions by Nigeria were able to shake things a little bit and Romero finally made his first save – albeit a relatively easy one – in the 62nd minute.
The best chance of the 2nd half came in the 64th minute with a fast counter-attack by Argentina, led by Tevez, which saw 4 Argentinians going against only 2 Nigerian defenders. In the end, Tevez passed it to Messi (probably not the best solution Tevez had) who shot it just inches away from the defenders’ post. Higuain also had a good chance afterwards.
The best chances for Nigeria would come after the 70th minute, with Taiwo, Odemwingie and Uche all having their shot at goal.
After that Argentina had good ball control and movement, while managing their 1-0 advantage. Good offense in the first half and ball possession in the second, this was the approach Argentina had.
Enyeama was clearly Nigeria’s best player and no doubt many clubs are, as we speak, taking a good look at him. Odemwingie, which came in the 60th minute, was also a good factor for the African side.
Taking a look at the Argentinian players, Messi played well (great ball control, shifts in velocity and overall stellar pitch vision), Tevez ran and worked a lot (a workmanlike approach) and Demichelis was their best defender. To that we can add, of course, Heinze, especially for the decisive goal he scored.
Who didn’t play as well as they should have? Higuaín did not have an inspired game (perhaps Milito will start in the following game, let’s wait and see what Maradona does) and Di María was essentially absent from most of the action.
Next for Argentina: a date with South Korea. If anything, the South Koreans showed great conditioning and speed against Greece earlier today. This Group B game 2 will most likely decide who wins this group, with Argentina maintaining their status as prohibitive favorites.
Next for Nigeria: they get to square off against Greece, who also lost their opener. This is a must win game for both sides, with Nigeria having more power and Greece being a better tactical side.
Both these games will be played on the 17th of June.