Argentina vs Nigeria Preview: Is Messi About to Wave Goodbye to World Cup 2018?

Lionel Messi Celebrating for Argentina
Credit: Agencia de Noticias ANDES, Wikimedia Commons

There have been many stories emanating from an enthralling World Cup 2018 in Russia, and one of the main narratives has been how bad this Argentina squad has fared.

Head coach Jorge Sampaoli has taken the bulk of the stick, and there has even been talk of a revolt in the Argentine camp and an alleged ‘coup’ to remove the manager ahead of Tuesday’s all-or-nothing clash with Nigeria.

Behind the scenes machinations like that never tend to end well, and it will be interesting to see if Sampaoli is on the touchline and can motivate his players into delivering a winning performance against the Africans.

It will be a tough old game in Saint Petersburg, and that’s because the Super Eagles are flying following their 2-0 win over Iceland last time out. They had rediscovered their attacking je ne sais quoi, with Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho linking up well. The stodgy performance that greeted their 0-2 defeat to Croatia a thing of the past.

So, Tuesday’s do-or-die clash in Group D will see the winner of Argentina vs Nigeria progress to the last 16 unless Iceland win well against Croatia; it’s a fascinating conclusion to one of the World Cup’s most entertaining groups.

Argy Bargy Terribly Timed

Credit: Cyril Venediktov Wikimedia Commons

As a manager, you don’t mind seeing a bit of passion and antagonism amongst your playing squad, but normally you’d like that energy to be used positively on the pitch; not directed wholly at you.

It’s always slightly bewildering when football players blame their manager for their own failings; after all, it’s the players pulling on that famous sky-blue-and-white striped shirt that are ultimately responsible for success or failure on the pitch.

It’s a mindset that hints at deeper problems among the group of players, and the far below-par performances of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and co cannot simply be due to a perceived lack of man management, can they?

Indeed, there are rumours that Aguero will be dropped for this encounter with Nigeria, with either Paulo Dybala or Gonzalo Higuain coming in. Not bad replacements to have, by any means, but the South Americans’ chances would surely be higher with a player of Aguero’s prolific nature out on the field.

All of the bad blood and resentment makes Argentina’s odds of 1/2 with the bookmakers to win this match faintly ridiculous.

Super Eagles Set to Take Flight

When we place our bets, we tend to look at the individuals rather than the collective unit.

If football was played on paper, then Argentina would win this game 99 times out of 100 given the quality at their disposal.

But on grass it is the morale and teamwork of Nigeria that catches the eye.

They were awful against Croatia in a game which they appeared to be trying not to lose, rather than win; an affliction which can damage ambition in the biggest stage.

But they were carefree and aggressive against Iceland, and got their reward for their front-foot approach. That 2-0 victory puts them right back in the mix for a last 16 place, and if they show similar levels of intensity against the Argentines their odds of 6/1 could look faintly ridiculous come Tuesday evening.

The Verdict

Argentina Nigeria
Credit: Dmitry Pukalik Wikimedia Commons

You have to suspend your disbelief sometimes with football betting, but we have to tell you that a team containing Lionel Messi should not be the favourites to win this match.

They were obliterated by Croatia, but more important than the 0-3 scoreline was the sense that the Argentines didn’t really seem to care; particularly in the last ten minutes when they shipped two of those goals.

Contrast that to the Nigerians, who will be positive and cheered on by a colourful band of characters in the stands. Remember, most neutrals love a shock result.

And it would be a shock if the Nigerians were to win, according to the bookies at least, but arguably not to anyone who witnessed the two teams’ last outings.

Argentina are suspect defensively, and Musa and Victor Moses could run them ragged down the flanks. Nigeria play with a defensive midfield three, which will limit the space available to Messi and co, and as long as the Africans defend with responsibility and concentrate fully it is absolutely possible that they can win this game.

From a betting perspective, the Nigeria/Draw Double Chance at 6/4 makes for outstanding value.