Argentina booked passage into the second round with a 2-1 win over an excellent Nigeria side. They face France in the next round, while Wednesday’s fixtures are looking juicy as they could set up a last 16 clash between the defending champions and the most successful nation in World Cup history.
Argentina leave it late Javier Mascherano’s cheek was covered in blood. Lionel Messi picked up a yellow card for time wasting. Jorge Sampaoli gyrated like a shaman. Diego Maradona, a man who has controversy as a shadow, was making rude gestures. Amid all of this a fine football match occasionally broke out, and Argentina just edged it to book their place in the last 16.
There were many other highlights, not least Messi’s goal, fired into the net after two touches, the second of which seemingly taking the ball beyond him. But physics doesn’t apply to Messi in full flight -- and like a PlayStation footballer he scored. Nigeria’s equaliser from the penalty spot was soft, questionable even--but it meant that going into the final phase Argentina were going home. Then Marcos Rojo, of all people, a defender with just two goals to his name scored beautifully in the 86th minute to end Nigeria’s dream. Messi’s dream lives on: they face France in the last 16 and it is Nigeria going home.
Brazil and Germany eye smoother passage Argentina only just escaped the ignominy of a first-round exit, and Germany will be aiming for an easier day. Joachim Loew has selection issues in defence as Jerome Boateng is suspended, while Sebastian Rudy and Mats Hummels have injuries. A victory over South Korea will seal qualification, but unless Mexico struggle against Sweden, the Germans will finish second in the group. The ramifications are huge: they will face Brazil in the last 16 if Neymar and co top their group. France are already drawn to play Argentina, which means the World Cup could lose two of its most storied teams before the quarterfinals.
Then there’s Brazil. Their assignment against Serbia is a challenging one and they are without the injured Diego Costa. Neymar isn’t quite at Maradona’s level, but the striker has courted controversy for his antics and play-acting. A bar in Rio de Janeiro is promising a free round of drinks on the house each time Neymar falls over, which will inevitably result in a bar full of people falling over.
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