World Cup 2018, Nigeria 1-2 Argentina: Best and worst players from the game

Rojo scored the winner for Argentina on the night
Rojo scored the winner for Argentina on the night

Argentina secured qualification to the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup with a late win over Nigeria in their Group D encounter at the Saint Petersburg Arena. Jorge Sampaoli opted for a tactical tweak and a number of notable changes in personnel heading into La Albiceleste's must-win game against the Super Eagles, who were yet again put to the sword at football's biggest stage by Argentina.

Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the 14th minute after he got on the end of a sublime pass from Ever Banega to slot the ball past Francis Uzoho in goal for Nigeria. However, Nigeria were presented with a glorious opportunity in the second half when the referee awarded a penalty against Javier Mascherano after he had man-handled Leon Balogun inside the penalty area.

Victor Moses made no mistake from the spot and scored what looked like the goal that could possibly knock Argentina out of the World Cup. Nigeria were ever so close to doing the same and were just four minutes away from booking their place in the pre-quarters before Marcos Rojo scored the winning goal in the 86th minute, to emerge as an unlikely hero for Sampaoli's men on the night.

The result helped Argentina finish second in Group B, only behind Croatia who retained top-spot with a win over Iceland, and La Albiceleste will face France on 30th June at the Kazan Arena in the pre-quarters. Without further delay, let's take a closer look at the best and worst performers from this intriguing encounter:

#5 Best - Victor Moses (Nigeria)

Moses produced a calm head in front of goal
Moses produced a calm head in front of goal

Victor Moses shouldered the responsibility of restoring parity for Nigeria from the penalty spot in a virtual knockout game on the night and he did not disappoint. The Chelsea wing-back sent Franco Armani the wrong way and dispatched his penalty with a calm and composed head to breathe life back into the game.

That was not all for Moses on the night as he worked tirelessly on the flanks for Gernot Rohr's men by running up and down without any signs of slowing down. The 27-year-old held more than his own in defence and did not hesitate to push forward whenever required to make up the numbers for his side in the opposition's half.

#4 Worst - Javier Mascherano (Argentina)

Mascherano conceded the penalty on the night
Mascherano was not at his influential best

Javier Mascherano did not enjoy a particularly good day at the office against Nigeria on the night and the warning bells were ringing loud and clear when he misplaced a couple of dreadful passes as early as in the first quarter of the match.

The first one was quite abysmal for his standards after he played it straight to Kelechi Iheanacho's feet, another player who struggled majorly on the night, but the striker failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

Argentina's most capped player struggled to make an impact in midfield and made just a single successful tackle to go with his rather uncharacteristic sloppy passing. To make things even worse for the veteran, he was penalized by referee Cuneyt Cakir in the second half for holding down Leon Balogun inside the penalty area. Mascherano picked up a booking in the process to cap off a disappointing night for him in national team colours.

#3 Best - Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Messi finally opens his account with a well taken finish
Messi finally opens his account with a well-taken finish

The tweak in formation certainly worked wonders for Lionel Messi who opened his account for this year's tournament with a composed finish to put Argentina ahead on the night. It only took 14 minutes for Messi to make an impact against Nigeria when he timed his run to perfection to get on the end of a delightful lob pass over the defence from Ever Banega.

However, the job was far from done and with two exquisite touches of the ball he set himself up for a comfortable finish that would send the Argentina supporters at the Saint Petersburg Arena into a delirium of noise. They had finally witnessed what they had hoped for on the night, the Superman from Rosario carrying the hopes of their nation yet again.

Messi had more in his locker and provided a killer pass shortly thereafter to send Higuain through on goal, but the latter was denied by the heroics of Francis Uzoho. Argentina's talisman was denied a second goal on the night by the woodwork after he tried to curl one past Uzoho from a free-kick routine.

#2 Worst - Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria)

Iheanacho failed to make an impact for Nigeria
Iheanacho failed to make an impact for Nigeria

The Leicester City forward was teamed up alongside his club team-mate Ahmed Musa at the top for Nigeria and Gernot Rohr would have hoped that the duo would work together in tandem to try and exploit the Argentine defenders with their pace. However, the partnership failed to blossom and Kelechi Iheanacho was seen as a frustrated figure for the majority of the game.

The 21-year-old failed to link up play with his teammates and lacked the hunger or desire to try and force the initiative on his counterparts on the night. Iheanacho fluffed his lines early on when he was presented with the ball by Javier Mascherano and that effort pretty much gave a preview of what was in store for the striker.

Iheanacho was the first player to be taken off and was replaced by Odion Ighalo right after the half-time break.

#1 Best - Ever Banega (Argentina)

Ever Banega dominated proceedings in the middle of the park
Ever Banega dominated proceedings in the middle of the park

Ever Banega produced a stellar performance in midfield for La Albiceleste on the night and he was certainly their best player on the pitch. The 29-year-old was awarded a first start of the tournament by Jorge Sampaoli and the decision more than worked out in favour of his side.

The midfielder dominated proceedings in the center for Argentina and now that we look back, it almost feels like Sampaoli was quite clueless about what he can offer to this team in the first place. That is probably the only rational explanation left to justify Banega's lack of involvement up until this point.

It was Banega who opened up Nigeria with a defence-splitting lob pass over the top for Lionel Messi's opening goal on the night and he looked more than dangerous every time he had the ball at his feet. Moreover, it was his composure that helped bring balance to Argentina in the middle of the park after Javier Mascherano started losing the plot against the stubborn approach by the Nigerians.

Who do you think was the best player on the night? Tell us in the comments below!

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Edited by Raunak J
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