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World Cup: Argentina Defeat Nigeria, But How Long Can they Rely on Lionel Messi?

Argentina secured a 3-2 victory over Nigeria, topping their group and heading into the next round. But, the team has not given Lionel Messi enough support.

Ian Walton

Messidependencia. That's what many called FC Barcelona's crisis at various points the past few years. The height of it was maybe two seasons back, when a couple young nobodies like Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello were two of Messi's primary offensive partners. He had to do it all himself, almost.

At that time, many were dissatisfied with his work for the Argentine national team. "He's more Catalan than Argentine," his detractors would sneer. "He just doesn't try for the national team."

How times have changed.

Messi is currently on fire for Argentina, scoring 24 in the past 23 games. He's continued that form into the World Cup. Today, with a brace in about an hour of game play, Messi tied his Barcelona teammate Neymar in the race for the Golden Boot.

More importantly, he made the difference again, as Argentina defeated Nigeria 3-2. Marcos Rojo, who has been surprisingly good from left-back, became the first Argentine besides Messi to score in Brazil.

Still, Argentina did not really silence the critics. They gave up two goals to Nigeria, hardly an impressive defensive performance.

And in the context of their first two matches, there's not much reassurance. It's not just that Messi has scored the majority of Argentina's goal. It's how he has scored them - doing it mostly without help. Messidependencia. It's asking for trouble.

Argentina played 4-3-3 using their expected lineup. Nigeria had not conceded all tournament long, the only team at that point still to concede. It took Messi all of 3 minutes to change that.

Angel Di Maria received a deep pass on the right flank and dribbled into the box. Nigeria's star GK Vicent Enyeama kept it out, with the aid of the post, but it bounced temptingly in front of his goal. Messi was the quickest, and he thumped the ball in as two Nigerian defenders clattered into each other attempting a block.

Yet, Nigeria drew level just a minute later. Pablo Zabaleta has not had a great World Cup and he could not contain Ahmed Musa, who rifled a shot into the net.

In the 36th minute, Sergio Aguero left with an injury, which just means Argentina have one less potential scorer, at least for now. But maybe it's a blessing in disguise. Ezequiel Lavezzi, the forward most likely to replace him, is not nearly as clinical but he can bring width and workrate to the side.

Messi would warn Enyeama with a long range free kick, but the Nigerian swept it aside. However, in the 45th minute, Messi got another chance and this time he did not miss, firing a rocket into the corner.

Argentina's defense still looked fragile in the second half, and Musa again was through on goal. This time his task was even easier, and he made no mistake. The score was 2-2.

With the score tied, Argentina again benefitted from a deadball situation. Ezequiel Garay nodded a corner kick down into the path of Rojo, who was able to redirect it past Enyeama for the Albiceleste to take the lead once again, 3-2.

With the job essentially done - Argentina needed only a draw to win the group - Messi was withdrawn for Ricky Alvarez, to rest him for the knockout phase.

Given how heavily Argentina have relied on him in the first stage, Messi might just need it if he's to make another supreme effort.

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