Heinze secures Argentina win
Gabriel Heinze (AFP)
Johannesburg - Argentina opened its World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday, clinging nervously to an early goal from Gabriel Heinze after failing to convert a number of clear opportunities.
Heinze scored with a diving header in the sixth minute after taking advantage of slack marking to power in a header from 12m from Juan Sebastian Veron's corner.
The Nigerians boasted a clear height advantage, but struggled for much of the match to contain diminutive Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who tormented them with his piercing movement and almost-magnetic ball control.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain failed to convert three good chances, including what seemed a certain goal in the fourth minute. Messi, too, came agonizingly close on at least four occasions, forcing acrobatic saves from Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
The Argentines almost paid for their squandered chances, as the powerful Nigerians grew in confidence in the second half.
Taye Taiwo came close to an equalizer with a low effort that flew just past Sergio Romero's left post, and substitute Kalu Uche then scooped a weak shot over the crossbar from inside the box with only eight minutes left.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona prowled around the technical area throughout the match, with hands clasped behind his back.
For the first time as Argentina coach, the former captain wore a suit - a stark contrast to the image of him hurling himself, track-suited, into a puddle on the field when Argentina all but secured qualification with a last-gasp win over Peru last year.
Argentina: Sergio Romero, Martin Demichelis, Gabriel Ivan Heinze, Walter Samuel, Angel Di Maria (Nicholas Burdisso, 85), Jonas Gutierrez, Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron (Maxi Rodriguez, 74), Gonzalo Higuain (Diego Milito, 79), Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez.
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama, Chidi Odiah, Daniel Olusola Shittu, Taye Taiwo (Kalu Uche, 75), Joseph Yobo, Dickson Etuhu, Lukman Haruna, Sani Kaita, Chinedu Obasi (Peter Odemwingie, 60), Victor Obinna (Obafemi Martins, 52), Ayegbeni Yakubu.