Argentina spill magic in Africa; win opener
Johannesburg: It was grace and superior tactics all the way for Diego Maradona’s Argentina as they won their first encounter of the FIFA World Cup 2010 1-0 against a fighting Nigeria.
Argentina hit the opening goal in their World Cup campaign in the sixth minute itself with a superb effort by Gabriel Iván Heinze. The game swerved without any other goals for the rest of the half as Argentina lead 1-0 at half-time.
A fantastic corner kick found Gabriel Heinze unmarked drifting in to the penalty spot and the defender nodded it into the top left corner!
The second half was more of a play build up with both the teams missing some corner shots as even the goalkeepers were on cue throughout the game. Nigeria had their chances and they fumbled when it mattered the most.
Diego Maradona was visibly ecstatic with the early lead and punched the air to tell the world that his outfit meant business.
The world`s best player Lionel Messi was in irresistible form as the two-time world champions dominated Nigeria, but only had Gabriel Heinze`s sixth-minute goal to show for their superiority in an exhilarating spectacle before 55,686 noisy fans.
Messi taunted the Africans with his mesmerising skill and virtuosity and was denied his first goal at South Africa 2010 only by the outstanding saves of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
With coach Diego Maradona prowling his sideline technical area for the whole match, Argentina could not find the second killer goal as the uninhibited Nigerians came close several times in the second half to grabbing an equaliser.
It was a rasping Messi volley tipped over the bar by Enyeama that indirectly led to the only goal in the opening minutes.
Sebastian Veron`s corner picked up unmarked Heinze hurtling in late and the Marseille defender headed powerfully past Enyeama to send the large contingent of Argentine fans wild.
Argentina had numerous scoring chances, none more so than Messi`s charge on goal nine minutes from time.
Yet again he was thwarted by Enyeama`s blocking feet to keep the Nigerians in the game, frustrating a smart-suited Maradona on the touchline.
"When you don`t kill things off in front of goal you can pay a heavy price. They almost got a draw - we missed loads of chances," Maradona said, adding that "their keeper turned in an exceptional showing."
He added that "players such as Messi and Higuain knocked in around 60 goals last season between them yet today it was almost as if they couldn`t set their sights on goal.
"But the win means we can be calm - we are on the right track."
General manager Carlos Bilardo, who led Argentina to the 1986 title with Maradona as his side`s fulcrum, also noted that "we had a hatful of chances - in the first half we should certainly have made sure we increased the margin."
On another occasion in the 65th minute Carlos Tevez triggered a counter-attack from deep inside his own half and set up Messi only for the Barcelona superstar to shoot agonisingly past the post with Enyeama beaten.
Left-back Taye Taiwo came closest for Nigeria in the second half with his thumping volley just fizzing past the far post on 71 minutes.
But the Nigerians made the openings only to spoil their chances with errant finishing with Hoffenheim`s left winger Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi going close on a couple of occasions in the first half.
"I am very disappointed," Nigeria`s Swedish coach Lars Lagerback said.
"I am very proud of the players against some of the best players in the world, I`m really impressed with the players, but I`m very disappointed about the result.
"I have given a lot of credit to the way we have handled the set piece tasks defensively during our friendlies, but we were asleep at one of the corners and that was enough for their goal."
Argentina`s Newcastle United defensive midfielder Jonas Gutierrez and Nigeria midfielder Lukman Haruna picked up yellow cards.
Argentina have won all three of their matches with Nigeria at the World Cup after winning 2-1 at the 1994 tournament in the USA - Maradona`s last international appearance as he was then sent home in disgrace for failing a drugs test - and 1-0 at the 2002 Korea/Japan edition.
Nigeria`s last victory at the World Cup was back in 1998 when they beat Bulgaria 1-0 and since then the Super Eagles have lost five games and drawn one.