Nigeria’s hope were dashed last night as Marcus Rojo’s late volley send Argentina to the next stages.
Marcus Rojo’s stunning finish four minutes from time kept Lionel Messi and Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive to see off Nigeria 2-1 on Tuesday and set up a last 16 meeting with France.
Messi’s first goal of the tournament got the two-time winners off to a perfect start in Saint Petersburg, but Victor Moses’s 51st minute penalty had Jorge Sampaoli’s men headed for a humiliating group stage exit until Rojo’s late intervention.
The Manchester United defender, who had escaped conceding a second Nigerian penalty moments earlier after a controversial VAR review, thundered home Gabriel Mercado’s cross to send the under-fire Sampaoli running down the sidelines amid wild scenes of celebration.
Messi missed a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and was largely bypassed in a 3-0 thrashing by Croatia that saw calls for Sampaoli to be sacked before their final group game.
However, Argentina avoided the abyss by the skin of their teeth to fight another day against the highly-fancied French in Kazan on Saturday.
Messi produced a magical performance in Argentina’s final qualifier with a hat-trick in Ecuador just to get his country to Russia.
But he couldn’t recreate those heroics as Nigerian defenders swarmed around him everytime he was hopefully shovelled the ball by Argentine team-mates.
There was further VAR controversy when Nigeria were denied a second penalty when Rojo headed onto his own arm before substitute Odion Ighalo fired wide.
Ighalo missed another glorious chance when he shot too close to Armani and Nigeria were made to pay for their profligacy from the most unlikely source.
Sergio Aguero had been thrown on from the bench to join Messi and Higuain in attack, but it was Rojo who produced a striker’s finish on his weaker right foot to spark delirious scenes of celebration among the tens of thousands of Argentines in the stands.
Chief among them was legendary 1986 World Cup winning captain Diego Maradona who reacted by raising the middle finger of both hands in just his latest controversial moment as a spectator in Russia.