Despite dominating for large parts of the game, Argentina were wasteful in front of goal in their victory over Nigeria in the opening game of both teams’ World Cup campaigns at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Gabriel Heinze gave Argentina the lead early on after heading in a corner. Victor Obinna was at fault for the Super Eagles, as he failed to properly mark Heinze. Nigeria Coach Lars Lagerback, a known proponent of tight defensive set-ups from set-plays, was no doubt less then pleased with Obinna’s efforts.
The standout of the game was Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama, who produced some magnificent saves from superstar Lionel Messi. However, Diego Maradona’s side lacked the killer instinct in front of goal. Gonzalo Higuain was preferred to Inter’s Diego Milito, this despite Milito having a far superior season to the Real Madrid man. Higuain wasted a glorious opportunity early on, as a jinking run and through-ball from Messi was hit wide by Higuain from five yards out. He had numerous chances to score, but lacked a cutting edge finish. Milito came on for Higuain late in the game, but did not have enough time to make his mark. Milito could well replace Higuain in the starting line-up for La Albiceleste in their next group game against Korea Republic on Thursday.
Maradona’s team selection remains puzzling, slotting winger Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, a position the Newcastle United man is not accustomed to. It was a defensive error from Gutierrez that allowed Chinedu Obasi to aim a diagonal shot that went narrowly wide. Unfortunately for Nigeria fans, the team did not target the suspect Gutierrez and as such he was allowed time and space to push forward into a more attacking position, without worry of needing to get back. The top nations will no doubt be rubbing their hands at the prospect of attacking the right-hand side of defence if Gutierrez continues to be deployed there. Argentina has Nicolas Otamendi who can replace him, and although inexperienced, is a much more natural right-back than Gutierrez.
Javier Mascherano and veteran Juan Sebastian Veron looked in total control in midfield, which allowed Angel Di Maria and Gutierrez to supply the crosses for the strikers. Creativity was in abundance from Messi, who showed France, Italy and Germany what they will be missing in their own squads – the lack of a game changing player. Argentina has some of the most feared strikers in the world. The aforementioned Messi, Milito and Higuain are joined by Sergio Aguero as the two-time champion’s five attackers. It is in defence where they looked susceptible to conceding.
Walter Samuel, coming off a treble-winning season with Inter lacks the pace to be able to hang with some of the better forwards in the game. The same can be said of Bayern Munich’s Martin Demichelis. It can be argued that Argentina was lucky not to have conceded an equaliser, as Taye Taiwo toe-poked a rasping left-foot shot just wide and Kalu Uche hooked his shot over the bar from close range.
Argentina came through with a win in their first game, which will have eased the nerves of Maradona and his men. They came up against a phenomenal keeper, who kept the score-line close. If Messi can carry on creating chances for his teammates and the strikers put them away then Argentina will be a force in this tournament. It is the defence that causes the most concern. Otamendi will almost certainly replace Gutierrez in the next game and the experience of Samuel and Demichelis should serve them well, but the back-line does not look as secure as it should be. Based on the final third alone though, they are an exciting team that has the potential to go all the way.