Five-time world footballer of the year and Argentine football legend, Lionel Messi, has expressed the difficulty the South American side will encounter when the Super Eagles face off against the Latin American nation in the last Group D match at the World Cup finals in Russia which gets underway from today.
Both teams now, perennial opponent at previous group stage of the competition except at France ’98 and on all occasions Argentina always triumph but will meet again in the last group match that will determine the journey of the two teams into the knockout phase of the competition.
In an interview with UK’s Daily Express Wednesday, the FC Barcelona forward said: “We don’t know so much about Nigeria but the African teams are normally compact, tough and strong. So it will be no walkover,” he observed.
His comment was corroborated earlier in the week by former team mate, Javier Mascherano who said “Nigeria is quite well known to us, we’ve always met in the last World Cups. They are tough, not just because of their physical power, but because their disorganisation has the effect of disorganising you as a rival and that is when teams like ours suffer the most,” he pointed out last Sunday in an interview.
Messi, scorer of two goals against Nigeria in 3-2 win at the last edition in Brazil was missing in action the last November, when Super Eagles proved bookmakers wrong with an emphatic 4-2 win over the two-time World Champions in an international friendly match in Russia.
The shocker of last year in Russia has elevated the next encounter as one of the most important matches in the group stage of the tournament in Russia.
Aside his comments about the Nigerian team, Messi also revealed, his thoughts on Argentina’s chances and his future with the Albeceleste: “Our challenge is to be champions,” said the Barcelona superstar.
“We know it won’t be easy but I’m certain that Argentina has a squad capable of being a champion in Russia. If the players all believe the same then we can be contenders.
“It’s true that the qualifying phase was complicated for us because we took too long to do it,” he said.
“But the important thing is that we are here in this World Cup and that we give everything to achieve as much as we can.
“If Argentina goes out there and plays as we know we can then it will be very difficult to beat us.
“We have experienced World Cups before and we know that every rival will come out to try and beat us and play the game as if it is a final. That always makes it more complicated. But we are used to it.
“It will be important to start strongly. Iceland did well in their last tournament so the first match will not be comfortable. But these are the ones to win if you don’t want the next matches to be even more complicated.”
“Croatia is a good team with players in the big European leagues and that makes them dangerous,” said Messi.
Argentina opens their account at the Mundial on Saturday afternoon against Iceland before Nigeria takes on Croatia hours later.