Meanwhile in Moscow: Vamos a Ganar, Argentina!

Vamos vamos Argentina,
Vamos vamos a ganar,
Que esta barra quilombera, no te deja, no te deja alentar.
El equipo està enl cancha,
el partido ya empezò
y el estadio se esemece,
cada vez que la Argentina hace un gol.

It was 1978 when this song composed by Nestor Rama and Rimasi followed the heroics of the Argentinian Selecciòn of Mario Kempes and Dario Passarella – the first one capable of winning a World Cup. That team, coached by Luis Menotti, was made up by warm-hearted and gritty players, who played their home hosted tournament with one purpose only: Ganar!

Just like today, the Selecciòn had to face multiple criticism from their fans, but the home spirit ultimately prevailed and turned into support for the players with a camiseta celeste y blanca. Mario Kempes literally exploded, scored six goals, and led the side of Captain Daniel Passarella to raise to the sky the trophy of their first world star.

40 years have passed, and just like back in the days, tonight Argentina put their heart beyond criticism, turned into a winning team for the first time in World Cup 2018, and prevailed 2-1 over a Nigerian squad that appeared slow – but well organized, and indeed tough to face. An extremely important win, that could hopefully represent a turning point for coach Jorge Sampaoli’s selection, and that came at the end of some pretty stormy days.

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The way Leo Messi almost strangled match winner Marcos Rojo while celebrating after his decisive goal shows how much tension and pressure Argentina released as they managed to sneak in World Cup Round of 16!

Words, words, and more words! Criticism fell all over the place on Argentina: Diego El Cholo Simeone used an intellectual but blunt register, ripping Sampaoli’s work to pieces in some leaked Whatsapp vocal messages. Diego Maradona did it his way, subtly disguising his thinking with the style of a homeless bum. Portuguese coach José Mourinho went for an easy target, choosing to shoot on the disastrous goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero.

Needless to say, the most bombarded one what “the goat” Lionel Messi, who was defined spineless, an eternal loser – at least when it comes to his performances with the Albiceleste –  and in some cases the real problem itself of Argentina. But along he came, La Pulce, in the end: Fast, fleeting, fighting in the front line like somebody who wants to shout at the world of football that he is ready to do better than the past, not to equal it. We want the third star, that’s what his silence shouted.

Tonight in Saint Petersburg, Kempes, Passarella, Simeone and Maradona were not on the pitch. Not even Jorge Burruchaga – who was rumored to be ready to substitute Sampaoli in a case of a rushed sacking of him – was there. Players on the field had the little-known names of substitute goalkeeper Franco Armani from River Plate, Sevilla’s left back Gabriel Mercado, or Independiente’s midfielder Eduardo Meza.

Together with them, the more famous Javier Mascherano, Nicolas Otamendi, and of course Lionel Messi. On the other side of the pitch, was a more modest Nigerian selection, mostly relying on Obi Mikel’s experience, and on Victor Moses’ speed.

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Coach Jorge Sampaoli gave Gonzalo Higuain a chance in their starting lineup against Nigeria tonight…or was the team itself that imposed the decision over their mistrusted coach???

The game was incredibly hard-fought and risked having a sensational outcome, with Argentina and their mistrusted coach Sampaoli virtually out of the World Cup until minute 86, and Nigeria close to catch a well-deserved qualification. But when everything seemed lost, the Albiceleste took paper and pen, and rewrote from scratch the script of a movie with a different – yet equally thrilling – ending.

A movie that started with the best answer to criticism – an insanely beautiful goal by Messi after just 15 minutes – and continued with Marcos Rojo’s decisive goal in the 86th minute, after Moses had temporarily leveled for Nigeria from the penalty spot.

The Albiceleste avoided a bad ending, and let themselves go to a tango ecstasy, rejoicing for a qualification grasped with much labor and anger. They dressed up like a title contender tonight, showing that face that was not seen with Iceland and Croatia. The first two games showed a fragile, hysterical team, incapable of reacting to foul play. Conversely, the face seen with Nigeria was the one of their pride, and their capacity to find the right shot when was needed.

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Lionel Messi shots for Argentina’s 1-0, as Nigerian defender Kenneth Omeruo watches helpless. Has La Pulce’s World Cup finally taken a turn for the better?

Whose merit was that? Credit surely goes to the non-supporting actor Jorge Sampaoli, who celebrated like a lonely man when Rojo scored. But also to the coach on the field Javier Mascherano, who “decided” to lineup the experience of El Pipita Gonzalo Higuain, Ever Banega, and Angel Di Maria. It goes to his substitute Messi, who during the half time break gathered the team in the changing room tunnels to give directions, and it ultimately goes to international press as well – whose criticism ended up strengthening a team that could simply not leave the World Cup like that.

Messi and his teammates will now face France next Saturday at 4.00 PM, in the first game of the Round of 16. The French are a powerhouse of talent coached by Didier Deschamps, and the most “expensive” team in the World Cup. Most pundits agree on Les Bleus being a serious candidate to conquering the title. The march towards Moscow has just started!


MATCH REPORT

June 26, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool D
NIGERIA-ARGENTINA 1-2

SCORERS: 14′ Messi (A), 52′ Moses (N, pen.), 86′ Rojo (A)

Nigeria NIGERIA (3-5-2): Uzoho; Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo (90′ Iwobi); Moses, Etebo, Obi-Mikel, Ndidi, Idowu; Musa (92′ Simy), Iheanacho (46′ Ighalo) (Ezenwa, Akpeyi, Shehu, Echiejile, Awwiazem, Obi, Ebuehi, Onazi, Ogu) Coach: Rohr
Argentina ARGENTINA (4-4-2): Armani; Mercado, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico (80′ Aguero); Perez (61′ Pavon), Mascherano, Banega, Di Maria (72′ Meza); Messi, Higuain (Guzman, Caballero, Ansaldi, Fazio, Acuna, Salvio, Biglia, Lo Celso, Dybala) Coach: Sampaoli

REFEREE: Cakir (Turkey)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Balogun, Obi-Mikel (N), Mascherano, Banega, Messi (A)

***

Click below to relive some other matches in Group C:
Argentina-Iceland 1-1
Argentina-Croatia 0-3
Nigeria-Iceland 2-0

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