PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — About a dozen Argentine fans couldn’t get enough of the smell of victory in the Beira-Rio Stadium, dancing and singing in their seats more than than an hour after their team beat Nigeria 3-2.
They had good reason to celebrate.
Once again Lionel Messi had put on a World Cup show with two goals, but this time his whole team – aside from a couple of defensive blunders – was part of the performance.
In its third straight win, Argentina attacked with more flair than previously and could have scored more goals if it weren’t for some good saves by Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Ahmed Musa kept things interesting by twice erasing Argentina’s lead, before Marcos Rojo kneed in the winner from a corner.
“We played against a team that wanted to play,” Messi said. “I think we saw a good Argentina. We need to continue on this path.”
Before the match, which saw both teams advance from Group F, Enyeama was the only goalkeeper in the tournament who hadn’t conceded a goal. In Porto Alegre it took just three minutes for Messi to beat him.
The Argentina captain slammed in the rebound after Angel Di Maria’s shot bounced off the post.
Nigeria replied within a minute as Musa cut in from the left and beat Sergio Romero with a curling shot toward the far post.
Then just before halftime Messi stunned Enyeama again, with a long-range free kick that rose over the wall then dipped sharply to slip in just inside the post.
“Messi is from Jupiter, he is different,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
Messi had his best match so far, boosting his tournament total to four goals, and repeatedly cutting up Nigeria’s defense with dazzling runs and clever passes. The game lost intensity when its biggest profile was substituted after the hour-mark.
“At 3-2 with a half-hour left, we needed to let him rest,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said.
The second half started at the same furious pace as the first, with two goals within the first five minutes. First Musa took advantage of confusion in the Argentine defense to score his second. Then Rojo made it 3-2 as he got his right knee on a corner kick three minutes later.
Finding more space to attack, Argentina created more chances than in its previous games against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, but its defense caved in on both of Musa’s goals. Another concern for Argentina: Striker Sergio Aguero was injured in the first half, and replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi.
“Defensively sometimes we have problems,” Sabella said. “We will have to work on that … because in round of 16 if things go bad you go home.”
Argentina had already secured advancement but needed at least a draw to win the group. Nigeria advanced thanks to Bosnia beating Iran, going through on four points.
Just before the match tragedy struck in Nigeria as an explosion rocked a shopping mall in the capital, Abuja, and police said at least 21 people were killed.
The blast came as Nigerians were preparing to watch the World Cup match but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.
Keshi said he wasn’t aware of the explosion during the match and condemned it.
Tens of thousands of Argentine fans had traveled to Porto Alegre for the match, taunting Brazilian spectators with a song that includes the line “Maradona is greater than Pele.”
The Brazilians booed and held up five fingers to remind the Argentines of how many World Cups they’ve won. Argentina has two.
The Argentine fans who stayed in the empty stadium well past the final whistle kept singing the song as cleaning crews picked up garbage and a lawn-mower rolled across the pitch.
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama; Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo, Joseph Yobo, Juwon Oshaniwa; Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel, Michael Babatunde (Okechukwu Uchebo, 66); Peter Odemwingie (Uche Nwofor, 80), Emmanuel Emenike.
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Fernando Gago, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria; Lionel Messi (Ricardo Alvarez, 63), Gonzalo Higuain (Lucas Biglia, 91), Sergio Aguero (Ezequiel Lavezzi, 38).