Marcos 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, media reports said.
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, reported AFP.
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.
When Javier Mascherano wanted to express his gratitude after conceding the penalty that for 35 second-half minutes looked like it might send Nigeria through, it was Messi he hugged.
The 31-year-old, in what may well be his final stab at leading Argentina to a World Cup crown, did his work in the 14th minute.
Ever Banega’s sumptuous pass was chipped into his path. Messi cushioned the ball with his left thigh and without letting it bounce, prodded it into space with his left foot. Six steps later, his right foot pinged the ball past Francis Uzoho and inside the far post, the AFP report pointed out.
Argentina came here, needing only to win as long as Croatia, top of Group D and already through, did as expected and held off Iceland. They held up their side of the bargain, winning 2-1 in Rostov and will face Denmark on Sunday. Argentina have earned a go at France in Kazan on Saturday, the report said.