Nigeria face Lionel Messi's Argentina with last 16 in reach

Written by AFP | Porto Alegre | Updated: Jun 24 2014, 16:39pm hrs
Lionel MessiThousands of Messi fans are expected to make trip up from Argentina to the southern port city for the closing Group F clash.
Nigeria face Lionel Messi's already qualified Argentina in Porto Alegre tomorrow with a first appearance in the last 16 since 1998 tantalisingly within the African champions' grasp.

Tens of thousands of Messi fans are expected to make the trip up from Argentina to this southern port city for the closing Group F clash where a draw would secure the Nigerians the all important runners-up spot after Peter Odemwingie's goal against Bosnia-Hercegovina in Cuiaba on Saturday ended the west Africans' nine-match World Cup winless run.

Defeat to Argentina, who sit top with wins over Iran and Bosnia, could still see Stephen Keshi's men prolong their stay in Brazil, if Iran fail to beat Bosnia up in Salvador.

And FIFA might even have to get out their straws for the drawing of lots should Iran win 1-0 and Nigeria lose by the same score, leaving the sides inseparable on points, goal difference, number of goals and head-to-head.

Argentina approach the game with their noses put out of joint by media criticism of their performances so far, with only Messi's goals against Bosnia and Iran saving their blushes.

"Obviously it hurts when you hear people saying that they don't like you, when people say different things to us," Real Madrid forward Angel Di Maria said at the weekend.

Messi, who turns 27 on Tuesday, and his teammates have a significant incentive to notch up their third win here and top the table as that would mean likely avoiding Didier Deschamps's impressive France for a second round date instead with Group E's runners-up, likely to Ecuador or Switzerland, although Honduras could still snatch that honour.

The two-time former champions may have failed to set the 2014 World Cup stage alight in their opening forays but Messi predicts the Argentine pot is slowly coming to the boil.

"We are not showing what we can do, but with a run of games I think we will get there," said Barcelona's four time World Player of the Year.