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Argentina can reach full potential – Lionel Messi

Both South Americans and Nigeria have something to prove in Porto Alegre

Lionel Messi has scored two of Argentina’s three goals so far at the World Cup including the late winner against Iran at the Estàdio Mineirao on Saturday. Photograph: AP.

After underwhelming early performances, Argentina and reigning African champions Nigeria have something to prove when they meet in their final Group F match.

Argentina were among the favourites going in to the tournament but despite a much-vaunted front four, they have yet to come alive, with the exception of some moments of match-winning magic from Lionel Messi.

Nigeria, representing Africa’s richest and most populous nation, have also laboured to convince as a team.

Nonetheless, Argentina sit atop Group F with six points thanks to their less-than-emphatic wins over Bosnia and Iran.

Easier opponent

The South Americans have already qualified for the Round of 16 but will still want finish first to ensure an easier opponent – in principle at least – in the next stage.

Nigeria have four points following a dull draw with Iran and a win over first-timers Bosnia. A draw would be enough to ensure qualification but a loss to Argentina could put them in trouble.

Iran, who surprised many with their tenacious, bold play against Argentina, could still seize second place if they beat Bosnia and rack up a better goal difference. So a game that could see as much anxiety as adventure is on the cards.

Messi’s sublime strike against Iran in stoppage time in Belo Horizonte only highlighted the danger of Argentina relying on the Barcelona man too much. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.

He and his fellow strikers Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria form what should have been one of the most formidable attack forces in the tournament, but so far it has been rather blunt.

The defence has also looked shaky, with central defender Ezekiel Garay repeatedly caught off guard against Iran.

With other Latin American teams such as Chile and previously unheralded Costa Rica powering ahead and delighting fans along the way, Argentina will need to step up the pace if they are to quickly regain what they see as their rightful place at the front.

“We know we are not playing as well as we are expected,” Messi said. “But as we go along in the tournament, we will be improving and we will reach our full potential.”

Nigeria cannot afford to give anything away at the back but will need to hunt for goals if they are to be sure of qualifying for the Round of 16 for the first time since 1998. Their defensive frailties were exposed on several occasions against Iran and Bosnia and that could prove fatal with a hungry wolf like Messi on the prowl.