The Super Eagles of Nigeria took on South American giants, Argentina in a friendly game yesterday evening. The match that kicked off by 5pm Nigerian time was played in Krasnodar, Russia to help the Super Eagles prepare for the FIFA World Cup Finals next summer.
The Super Eagles finished top of their CAF qualification group and became the first African team to secure a spot in the group stage of the finals. Argentina secured qualification by defeating Ecuador on the final day of the CONMEBOL qualification due to a Lionel Messi hatrick.
Nigeria had been drawn in the group stage with Argentina in the 2002, 2010 and 2014 World Cup finals with the Super Eagles losing all games narrowly, one goal margin in all three games. It is smart to assume that Nigeria would face a South American counterpart in the first round of the world cup, so it is prudent that the Super Eagles get used to playing against South American opposition in the friendlies and warm up games to the World Cup.
The Super Eagles went into the game as underdogs. The Argentinians were without Lionel Messi, but they had the likes of Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Mascherano, Otamendi and several other star players in elite European clubs. Nigeria was without BBC AFOTY nominee, Victor Moses because he remained in London to recuperate fully from an injury.
Argentina took the lead midway through the first half through Eva Banega and doubled their lead a few moments later through Sergio Aguero. It looked like a routine victory for the Argentinians and would have signaled the turnaround of their recently unimpressive form. Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho scored a sublime free kick before the end of the first half to half the deficit.
The half time break proved to be decisive as the Super Eagles came out with renewed vigor and took the game to the South Americans. Alex Iwobi equalized early in the second half before débutante Brian Idowu gave the Super Eagles the lead just two minutes later.
The Argentinian team tried to get the equalizer with the likes of Angel di Maria, Aguero and Otamendi troubling the Super Eagles. The Nigerian defence remained resolute and resilient by being solid at the back and they prevented the Argentinians from scoring.
Alex Iwobi completed his brace with a sublime finish to put the game to bed and assure victory for the Nigerians in the 73rd minute. A friendly between Nigeria and Argentina is only a friendly by nomenclature as tempers flared towards the end of the game.
Speaking at the end of the game, the manager of the Argentinian national team; Jorge Sampaoli reserved praise for the Super Eagles and commended their fantastic comeback. He acknowledged that the presence of Lionel Messi would not have changed the results of the game.
Javier Mascherano echoed the words of his national team manager and singled out Alexander Iwobi for his stunning performance. He expressed displeasure that they lost a game after being two goals up and that they should have defended better but he praised the fighting spirit of the Super Eagles and described the second half performance as very strong.
“We dominated the first half, but they scored from their only shot on target before the half time break. Their second goal was well taken by the Arsenal lad; Iwobi then the fourth goal by same player killed the game off.
“He took his goals really well, maybe we should have defended better but the quality of the second strike from the edge of the box makes me think otherwise. Congratulations to Nigeria, they deserve to win,” the former Liverpool player said.
The Super Eagles should be delighted and proud of this performance and would be hoping to replicate such form when the World Cup finals begin in the summer of 2018