Messi: Game against France will be a difficult one

Argentina progressed to the round-of-16 after a thrilling 2-1 win over Nigeria on Tuesday.

Messi celebrating his goal, which was also the 100th goal of the World Cup. (Getty Images)   -  Getty Images

That flutter in the stomach before any performance – big or small – makes us human. The knots make us aware of our own infirmities and the universal conspiracies that play a huge part in shaping every outcome.

These goosebumps are as evident in a kid at a kindergarten recital as for the greatest footballer on the grandest stage. Lionel Messi, much relieved after seeing his team through to the knockout stages of the World Cup, didn't shy away from admitting his own nerves that afflicted him ahead of the Nigeria game.  “It was a big game for us, with a lot riding on it. We have suffered a lot in the tournament and that added to the pressure,” the Argentina captain said. “Despite all the negative talk surrounding the team, as a group we were confident of overcoming this challenge.”

READ: Late Rojo stunner saves Messi's men; to face France next

Messi and his team had looked largely pedantic in their first two group games, but – with their backs pushed to the wall – Argentina at last showed the right intent, with the skipper buzzing on the right outside of a front two. The 18th-minute goal from Messi soothed their nerves and the team did well to refuse Nigeria any openings in the first session.

Giving credit to the young Nigerian side, which showed a lot of vitality, Messi said: “It was a very balanced game. We controlled the first half, enjoying more possession of the ball while creating a few chances. We expected the second half to be similar, but they scored from a penalty and it became difficult.”

The goal, which came through a penalty  following a clumsy foul from Javier Mascherano, changed the momentum of the match as a buoyed Nigeria took the game to its opponents.

A fraught Argentina, with time flying by, besieged the opposition goal, and the Nigerian defensive discipline finally broke down when Marcos Rojo ghosted in from the back to score the winner with three minutes left of regulation time. “It was tense and we had very little time on hand. A draw was enough for Nigeria and they were sitting deep,” Messi said. “We had to press more and go all out in attack. Rojo’s goal came as a huge relief for all of us.”

With his focus now firmly on the game ahead, Messi sounded cautious about France’s abilities. “We have watched every game France has played and they have been doing great. This is the World Cup and you need to follow all the teams,” Messi said. “I personally know a few of their players and two of them (Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti) play with me (in Barcelona). I’m well aware of their capabilities and it will be a difficult game.”

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