Argentina secured a place in the FIFA World Cup 2018 Round of 16 (pre-quarterfinals) with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Nigeria in their final Group D match at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg. While Lionel Messi's brilliant strike was neutralised by Nigeria's Victor Moses from the penalty spot, Marcos Rojo found the winner in the 86th minute to send his team into the knockout stages.
Argentina were staring at elimination before the match with Nigeria after a 1-1 draw with Iceland and the humiliating 0-3 loss to Croatia. But Messi inspired his team with a brilliant goal in the 14th minute and his control over the midfield. But Nigeria were always threatening and Argentina knew that any slip up would end their World Cup dreams. After going into the halftime with a 1-0 lead, Argentine players were given a pep talk by none other than Messi.
Messi was caught by TV cameras speaking to his teammates just before they came out for the second half and the manner in which he was addressing the players made it clear that he was asking them to maintain the pressure on Nigeria.
Rojo, who ensured Argentina progress to the last 16 and play France, spoke about Messi's speech. "He told everyone that it was either life or death, that we had a duty to score, to shoot when we had the chance," Rojo said.
The Argentine defender added he felt confident after Messi addressed the team and told them to calm down and not be stressed as every player was feeling nervous. "It could've gone badly. We could've conceded but Leo was stubborn. He told me to run forward. Even (Javier) Mascherano. He told everyone to attack no matter what. He truly read the game and the risks. He's a leader. The best," Rojo was quoted as saying by thesun.co.uk.
Argentina now play the 1998 FIFA World Cup winner France on Saturday, June 30 at Kazan Arena in Kazan for a place in the quarterfinals.