This was possibly the most open group, and the actions from this matchday showed why! In the end, Argentina and Croatia were the ones to go through.
Nigeria vs Argentina – key events:
Nigeria XI (3-5-2): Francis Uzoho; Leon Balogun, Kenneth Omeruo (Alex Iwobi, 90′), William Troost-Ekong; Victor Moses, Wilfred Ndidi, John Obi Mikel, Oghenekaro Etebo, Brian Idowu; Kelechi Iheanacho (Odion Ighalo, 46′), Ahmed Musa (Simy Nwankwo, 90’+2′).
Argentina XI (4-4-2): Franco Armani; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico (Sergio Aguero, 80′); Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, Enzo Perez (Christian Pavon, 61′), Angel Di Maria (Maximiliano Meza, 72′); Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain.
Goals: Messi (15′), Moses (Pen, 51′), Rojo (86′).
Yellow cards: Balogun (33′), Mascherano (49′), Banega (64′), Mikel (90’+2′), Messi (90’+4′).
Onus was on Messi to deliver and carry his nation through. And the Argentina star, arguably the best player of this generation, started the way it was meant to be. A delightful pass from Banega found Messi inside the opponent box, and people knew what was going to happen. Messi controlled the ball beautifully before slotting it home past Uzoho. Minutes later, the Barcelona gem found Higuain with a fabulous through-ball. But the striker could not manage to put it inside the nets. Even after the goal, Nigeria did not panic and continued trying their best for the equalizer. However, that was hard to come by in the first half, and the two teams went to the break with Argentina leading by the Messi goal.
The second half started amidst great drama. Four minutes into the half, during a corner, Mascherano fouled Etebo and referee pointed to the spot. Chelsea winger Moses converted the chance with great composure and the match was on! There was another huge penalty shout for the Africans later in the match, but this time, after video consultation, the official did not give the decision in Nigeria’s favour. And then, Rojo stepped up! The Manchester United defender pounced on a cross from Mercado and hit the ball hard. The powerful shot found solace inside the Nigeria nets and that was enough to provide a 2-1 in for Argentina.
Nigeria vs Argentina highlights:
On the other hand, playing against the group leaders, Iceland had a daunting task ahead, and here is how things took place in that match.
Iceland vs Croatia – key events:
Iceland XI (4-2-3-1): Hannes Thor Halldorsson (GK); Birkir Mar Saevarsson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Ragnar Sigurdsson (Björn Sigurdarson, 71′), Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson; Emil Hallfredsson, Aron Gunnarsson (C); Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Birkir Bjarnason (Arnór Traustason, 90′); Alfred Finnbogason (Albert Gudmundsson, 85′).
Croatia XI (4-2-3-1): Lovre Kalinic (GK); Tin Jedvaj, Vedran Corluka, Duje Caleta-Car, Josip Pivaric; Luka Modric (C) (Filip Bradaric, 65′), Milan Badelj; Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic (Ivan Rakitic, 82′), Marko Pjaca (Dejan Lovren, 69′); Andrej Kramaric.
Goal: Badelj (53′), Sigurdsson (Pen, 76′), Perisic (90′).
Yellow cards: Pjaca (14′), Hallfredsson (59′), Finnbogason (64′), Jedvaj (83′), Saevarsson (84′).
This match looked like a battle between two equally strong teams. If the first 15 minutes belonged to the Croatians, next 15 were to the Vikings who came on top and created chances. Sigurdsson and Gunnarsson were very good on a couple of occasions and Iceland had the golden chance to take the lead. But, Kalinic made two timely saves to keep them at bay. In the end, the halftime score remained 0-0.
Badelj started the second half with great determination and he got the reward soon. First, his shot hit the crossbar and then the next minute, the midfielder capitalized on a Modric cross. This time, Badelj’s shot was too good to draw a save from Halldorsson and Croatia were up 1-0, with half an hour to go.
Next goal of the match came around the 75-minute mark. A handball inside the Croatian box allowed a spotkick for Iceland, and Sigurdsson made no mistake to restore the parity. The group toppers, however, were not ready to let go. In the dying moments, Perisic beat the goalkeeper from a tight angle to make it 2-1 for Croatia. They will face Denmark in Round of 16 while Argentina and France will square up against each other.