The Super Eagles of Nigeria are out of the World Cup after falling to Argentina four minutes before the end of regulation time.
Kelechi Iheanacho could have put Nigeria ahead in the 12th minute when a misplaced pass from the Argentines fell to him, but he couldn’t test Franco Armani in goal much less make the South Americans pay.
It didn’t take long after, just 14 minutes, for Argentina to punish Nigerians. Lionel Messi received a lobbed pass from the midfield and he deceived the onrushing Kenneth Omeruo with a deft first touch before blasting past Francis Uzoho in goal with his weaker right foot.
Messi nearly made it two from a free kick after William Troost-Ekong took one for the team as Angel Di Maria raced towards goal, but Uzoho’s fingertip save tipped to ball onto the post for onward clearance by the Nigerian defence.
Typical of Nigeria’s tournament reputation, the first half lacked little opposition-goalmouth action, save two tame efforts on target and an Ahemd Musa drive that flew just over the bar.
The second half began with the introduction of Odio Ighalo for the ineffectual iheanacho, and it took just three minutes for the pressure to pay off. Javier Mascherano was adjudged to have held on to Leon Balogun while Nigeria played a corner, leaving Victor Moses with the chance to stroke the ball home coolly from the spot.
With Nigeria in possession of the match’s psychological edge, Ahmed Musa found a way to evade Mascherano 10 minutes later, but his final cutback fell onto the feet of an Argentine rather than a Nigerian.
Nigeria again fashioned out the next chance, Musa evading his markers before crossing sideways to Ighalo, who sidestepped the ball and watched it roll to Ndidi, but the Leicester City man’s blast flew slightly over the bar.
Musa it was again who almost caused a penalty for the Argentines in the 74th minute. After picking up a loose ball as Nigeria looked to counter-attack, his pass was deflected the way of Ighalo, but the China-based footballer somehow contrived to shoot wide when it seemed easier to score.
Argentina also had their chance in the 79th minute after a well-worked ball ended up tantalizingly for Gonzalo Higuain, but the Juventus man ballooned it well wide off the goal.
Etebo deceived Nigerians into thinking he had given them a well-deserved lead, but it turned out his free kick had only ended up at the side of the net rather than inside.
Against the run of play, Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo popped up with a goal four minutes away from time, side-footing home a cross when unmarked despite a crowd of green shirts in the penalty zone.
The result leaves Senegal as Africa’s sole representative at the global showpiece, but even the Senegalese must beat Colombia on Friday to be guaranteed a knockout-stage place in the tournament.