Player – Efe Ambrose
Match – Nigeria v Argentina
Stadium Estadio Beira-Rio
Goal Scorers – Nigeria: Musa (2) Argentina: Messi (2), Rojo
The game got off to a blistering start with two goals and a trademark run by Efe in the first three minutes! Virtually straight from kick off Efe decided to take on the Argentina midfield in a run familiar to all Celtic fans and just about managed to hold onto the ball and pass it to a colleague. This sparkling piece of play was quickly eclipsed though by two high quality goals. Argentina were the first to strike when Mascherino played a superb ball to Di Maria who was in the space between Efe and Odemwingie. He fired a vicious shot off the post and keeper which fell invitingly to Messi of all people…. 1-0!! Within one hundred seconds it was 1-1 with some direct running by Nigeria finishing with an excellent curling shot by Musa who cut inside from the left wing.
Both teams then tried to establish some degree of shape with Nigeria reverting to a back four supplemented to a back five by Odemwingie when under pressure. This meant that Efe was playing as a right centre back for much of the first half in a position not dissimilar from his role at Celtic. Nigeria used this flexibility in midfield well and usually kept two players forward so that they could hit Argentina on the break. This approach, plus the huge talent in the Argentina forward line made for a very entertaining game. The Nigeria defence (including Efe) coped very well with the attacking play of Messi, Di Maria and Higuain. I was also very impressed with the pacy play of the Argentina substitute Lavazzi who replaced Aguero. Efe was often up against Di Maria who was dangerous throughout. If we meet Real Madrid next season then the pace of Matthews may give more protection but Efe persevered well and was quick to close down space. Messi and Higuain were getting some joy from running at the centre of Nigeria’s defence and, with five minutes to go Messi gained a free kick just outside the box. He hit a superb shot aimed at the postage stamp corner which was impressively saved by Enyeama. This was, though, just a rehearsal. A few minutes later Messi had another free kick in a slightly more central position and this time it was dispatched into the same corner with the keeper struggling to get close to it. It was a bit reminiscent of Naka’s free kick at Old Trafford!
The second half had an explosive start with Musa equalising for Nigeria. The Argentina midfield were guilty of ball watching and Musa ran through the centre of their defence with an ease which will be noted by their future opponents. Again, this goal provoked a response with Argentina regaining the lead within two minutes. The Nigerian defence was woeful at a corner leaving Rojo unmarked a few yards in front of goal to score with ease. As in the Bosnia game Efe played further forward in the second half and made several good runs. In fact had his shot not been deflected he may well have scored with a vicious shot in the last minute. Overall though this was another triumph for Messi who was the main difference between the teams. Once Messi was substituted a lot of the edge seemed to go out of the game but overall it was very entertaining and the best two teams have qualified from this group.
Player Rating 4/5
Efe was confident on the ball (a mixed blessing in my experience!) and played well in the system set up by Nigeria. He was guilty of ball watching at one corner which gave Di Maria a free header but despite this I feel he deserves the high rating due to the way he helped to contain the high quality Argentinian attackers.