Argentina survive Nigeria scare, enter Round of 16 – Croatia sail through
World Cup 2018 Results:
Argentina 2, Nigeria 1
Croatia 2, Iceland 1
Argentina vs Nigeria Match Review
Argentina rode on a 86th minute goal to set up a berth for the Albiceleste in the Round of the 16 at Russia 2018. Coming on the back of a humiliating 0-3 crushing at hands of Croatia, the Argentines started off in positive fashion in their last Gorup D game against Nigeria.
Lionel Messi's 14th minute opener seemed to have erased the pains of the past to some extent. Coach Jorge Sampaoli made five changes from the Croatia defeat that included an international debut for 31-year-old goal-keeper Franco Armani who replaced a beleaguered Willy Caballero.
Sevilla central defender Ever Banega who was kept on the benches for the past 2 games started off against Nigeria, proving his worth with a perfectly essayed high forward pass that helped Messi get the first goal.
Banega was exceptional in the mid-field, relaying defense splitting passes that striker Gonzalo Higuain could have easily exploited on 2 occasions.
Argentina seemed to have lost quite a lot of their verve in the 2nd half. Javier Mascherano, playing his 3rd World Cup, looked jaded and prone to errors.
The veteran Argentine defender's grabbing of Leon Balogun in the box from a corner was rash and aptly penalized. Victor Moses converted the spot-kick to put the Super Eagles on level terms in the 51st minute.
The aging Albicleste (the oldest side in the tournament, mostly in their 30s) seemed to have lost steam and showed none of flair of the first half.
The seasoned Jon Obi Mikel helped the young and inexperienced Nigerian side regroup and along with Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho upfront started taking charge of the proceedings.
With some hard tackling and effective marking of Messi, the Super Eagles looked to be on their way to forcing a stalemate that would have meant doom for the Argentines.
But out of the blue came a goal for the South Americans in the 86th minute! Gabriel Mercado's high pass to the midfield was intercepted brilliantly by Marco Rojo from amidst a couple of defenders and before anyone could react, the Manchester United defender executed a volley from 25 yards to send the ball screaming into the bottom of the net.
The World Cup runners-up survive to reach the next round where they face France.
Croatia vs Iceland Match Review
In another Group D match in the Rostov-on-Don arena, Iceland bid their World Cup dreams goodbye after a 1-2 defeat to Croatia. Croatia, who were already on 2 wins before their game against the Icelanders and through to the Round of 16 phase, made as many as 9 changes to the side that beat Argentina 3-0.
It seemed as if the Croatians were secretly willing the smallest participant nation in the Russia 2018 to win. But despite a second-string side facing them, the Icelanders were not able to capitalize.
After a listless 0-0 first-half in which Alfred Finnbogason and BirkirBjarnason both came close to scoring, it was the Croatians who got the opening goal through Milan Badelj, powering in a shot to the ground that eventually found the back of the net in the 53rd minute.
The Icelanders equalized in the 73rd through Gylfi Sigurdsson who converted a penalty following DejanLovren's handball. The match which seemed to be petering into a draw, saw the Croatians come to life in injury time.
Ivan Perisic, one of only two players to retain his place from the win over Argentina, scored in the 91st minute from a powerful left-foot shot.
Iceland had their moments, too, when Sverrir Ingason shot a header onto the Croatian bar from a corner and earlier effected a brilliant save in his role as a central defender.
Croatia, with this win are on 9 points having won all their three Group outings. They now take on Denmark on Sunday, July 1, in their Round of 16 clash.
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