Luis Suarez leaves no gnawing doubts as to his intentions
Messi’s hatful of tricks easy on the eye as he propels Argentina to the knock-out stage
Argentina’s Lionel Messi scores a free kick during the 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match against Nigeria at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters
WEDNESDAY, June 25th
According to Ewe & Eye (the Standard & Poor’s of sport spectatorship), the complete tournament requires there be at least one triple ‘X’ rated fixture of few goals, hard tackling, and an ultimate act of violence.
Shocking. I mean, given the choice of any member of the Italian squad to chew so as to absorb their essence via my canines, a certain bearded vineyard-owner who ambles about for Juve most of the year would more tickle my fancy. Start at the top, like.
Mentioning vineyards, I’m on a few cartons of cut-price retsina this evening in honour of Greece’s injury time win over Ivory Coast. To paraphrase Churchill, Greeks don’t drink like heroes, heroes drink like Greeks. After yesterday’s exploits, I imagine I have some catching up to do.
Twenty years ago today, Nigeria met Argentina for the first time in the group stage of USA ’94. But for an Iranian victory over Bosnia, Nigeria are qualified win lose or draw, although a point in Porto Allegre would ensure passage.
Argentina’s situation is more, and far less, abstract: a win or draw to guarantee the group, fine, but—most importantly— a performance! From the stuttering Bosnia win to being frozen out for over ninety minutes against Iran, Sabella’s boys need a bullocking display to soothe their detractors.
A half bookended with goals, Messi sent the albiceleste two-one up with a free-kick at the death, an otherworldly swish beyond Enyeama. Two strikes in the opening three minutes threatened a barn-burner which only ever managed to smoulder. Messi blasted in a third minute rebound before Musa curled past Romero to equalise within ninety seconds.
That is until Lionel’s late (latest) moment of near divinity, the football generally encouraged, a return to open-ended normalcy after Group D’s snaggle-toothed finale, which vibrant Colombia and irrepressible Greece weren’t able to fully remedy yesterday evening.
Fulltime - Nigeria 2 Argentina 3
Withdrawn on the hour, Messi remained the spectacle’s focal point, Jaime Beglinho chortling with Esteban Alkinho as the director alighted time and again on the Barcelona player amongst bench colleagues.
Celebrating his 27th favourite son partied hard in southern Brazil. A hat-trick didn’t quite arrive but Argentina’s verve with him in their midst was undeniable.
An M & M game, Nigerian scorer Musa nearly capped a fine display with a third of his own, there but for a once-stung Zabaleta anticipating his shot with a smart block.