Argentina kicked of their World Cup with a comfortable 1-0 victory over Nigeria, courtesy of Gabriel Heinze’s sixth minute diving header. Always in control of the game La Albiceleste’s performance has gone some way to answering their pre-tournament critics. Yet Maradona will be concerned with his sides impotence in front of goal, as the scoreline could and should have been far greater.
The starting eleven was more or less as expected, with Jonas Guttierrez selected at right back and Carlos Tevez partnering Gonzalo Higuian in attack. Guttierez’s lack of defensive nous was almost exposed in the second minute, when he was easily beaten by Chinedu Obasi, only for the Hoffenheim forward to fire well wide. However Argentina soon took charge of proceedings, a fine run from Lionel Messi leaving the goal at Higuian’s mercy, only for the Real Madrid forward to inexplicably shoot wide. Messi was looking sharp and soon after unleashed a curling shot which drew a fine save from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama.
From the resulting corner La Albiceleste took the lead. Whipped in by Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Heinze executed a fantastic diving header, all be it aided by the Africans non existent marking. Dominating possession, Argentina would have expanded the scoreline further were it not for the heroics of Enyeama. Again Higuain was played through on goal only to see his effort saved and the Nigerian keeper twice denied Messi after some slick build up play.
The second half saw much of the same, with Enyeama forced into fantastic saves from both Messi and Higuain. The Nigerians did begin to pose more of a threat as the game wore on, Obafemi Martins stinging the gloves of Sergio Romero and Kala Uche sending a gilt edged chance well over with less then 10 minutes remaining. However La Selección never appeared in any serious danger and secured a well deserved, morale boosting victory.
Maradona will be certainly be pleased with this result and the performance which came with it, yet there is also slight cause for concern. Gutierez was not entirley convincing at full back and aginst more astute oppositon his defensive shortcomings may be exposed. Furthermore Maradona must drill home the importance of taking every goal scoring oppurtunity. World Cup’s are generally defined by fine margins and especially in the latter stages La Albiceleste are unlikley to be able to afford such profligacy.
Romero: 6- A spectator for almost the entirety of the game, but kept out a strong effort from Martins .
Gutierrez: 6.5– Defensively naive at times, but was solid enough, and got up and down the flank well.
Demichelis: 6.5– A solid performance but was never overly tested .
Samuel: 6.5– As above, was also a threat at set pieces.
Heinze: 7– Fantastic diving header gave his team the victory and he pushed forward well.
Mascherano: 7– Typically tenacious performance which prevented Nigeria from finding any sort of rhythm.
Veron: 7.5– Showed he can still cut it at this level, it was his corner that provided the goal and his passing dictated the pace of the game. Argentina were visibly less dangerous after his substitution.
Di Maria: 6– A very quiet game for the Benfica winger, will need to become more involved to justify his selection.
Messi: 7– A response to those who claim he does not perform for Argentina, dangerous every single time he received the ball and would have scored at least once were it not for Enyeama’s heroics.
Tevez: 6.5– Typically dogged performance, linked up well with Messi and Higuain but wasn’t involved in any serious openings.
Higuain: 5.5-Was presented with three clear cut chances and squandered them all, will need to be more clinical if he is to keep his place.
Rodriguez: 6– Did nothing wrong in his 20 minute appearance .
Milito and Burdisso: N/A- Introduced too late to make a serious impact.
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