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Nigeria give a lifeline to Argentina and Messi


Argentina can breathe a little easier thanks to Nigeria, who defeated Iceland by two goals to nil yesterday. That leaves Argentina and Iceland level on one point, with just one goal separating them on – what could prove to be vital – goal difference (Argentina are on -3, Iceland on -2).

On Tuesday, Argentina will play Nigeria and a win will leave them with four points. Iceland could also finish with four points if they beat Croatia on the same day, which would mean it would come down to goal difference between Argentina and Iceland for second place. One thing is for certain: Argentina must win, because a draw would leave them with two points and Nigeria with four points. That would put Messi & Co. out of the tournament, no matter what happens between Iceland and Croatia.

Can Iceland beat Croatia? Of course anything can happen in football. And we don’t know what Croatia will do. Whatever happens, they are the group winners, and therefore can afford to rest their best players and give some game time to others. Luis Aragones, for example, did this in Spain’s final group game against Greece in Euro 2008 (a game which Spain won 2-1).

Such a decision would make the players happy and mitigate fatigue for what is left of the tournament, so I would not be surprised if Croatia do it, which would would of course improve Iceland's chances of a win. But regardless of this, the survival of Argentina depends first and foremost on the clash with Nigeria.

Or, more precisely, it depends on what they can do. Or what they and Messi can do. Because until now it has been a horror show – something which would have been unthinkable for a country with such a rich tradition in football, a country that constantly churns out footballers to compete in leagues around the world.

I don’t know how Jorge Sampaoli has been able to put together such a bad team. I don’t know why he hasn’t played Éver Banega, Paulo Dybala or Giovani Lo Celso. But above all, I don’t understand how Messi managed to do so little in their first match and nothing in the second. Rumours are rife about what is afflicting him. But the fact is that he just isn’t there, and Argentina and the World Cup need him.