Lionel Messi may have been 'damaged' by a long season, but he was the one doing the damage against Nigeria.
Last Updated: 13/06/10 5:01pm
Argentina's Group B campaign got underway on Saturday against African hopefuls Nigeria.
At kick-off when the teams were announced the match up looked more like a no contest - Lionel Messi v Danny Shittu an effective metaphor for the task Nigeria faced.
Much had been made of Messi's fitness after a long, hard slog of a season and his fitness coach had been quoted in the week as saying the midget maestro arrived exhausted and the "damage had already been done." On Saturday's showing, fully fit he'd be a danger to the game's future, as every youngster admits they will never get fit to lick Messi's boots and retire from football aged 15.
He ran the game, amply assisted by Carlos Tevez, everything offensively appeared to go through him and Messi's shooting practice was thwarted by a great performance by Vincent Enyeama between the sticks.
The Nigerian keeper was repeatedly called upon to maintain his team's slim chance of a result and on each occasion he was up to the challenge, disturbing a myriad of goal-bound efforts from their trajectory. As it was, the Argentine's frustration wasn't as ramped as it perhaps could have been as Gabriel Heinze breezed past his "marker" to head the South Americans into a fifth minute lead from a corner.
Cue the entertaining cat-and-mouse game between the world's best player and a goalkeeper whose birth continent is much maligned a traditional sense when it comes to his position - it's what makes the African Cup of Nations so engaging, but Enyeama's performance yesterday did a lot to restore faith in goalkeepers from all over Africa.
Had it not been for the Hapoel Tel-Aviv stopper it could have been six for Argentina and they'd have been long out of sight. As it was, the introduction of Uche in the second half went some way to exploiting Argentina's weakness at the back at the Super Eagles could quite easily have nicked a draw due to Argentina's profligacy up top, lack of pace at the back and Jonás Manuel Gutiérrez.
Quite how Diego made a number of decisions is beyond me; the first and most perplexing is leaving Javier Zanetti to have a nice summer holiday, the second is to keep Nicolas Burdisso on the bench, the third is to play Gutiérrez, the fourth is to play him out of position.
All day he was shown up as questionable player of international class, while his slips were not fully capitalised on by Nigeria against a slightly stronger team, Argentine keeper Romero would be forced to work a lot harder.
Most of Argentina's clear-cut chances fell to Gonzalo Higuain, the Real Madrid forward, who has been in clinical form for the season, though on Saturday's showing he appears to have employed Emile Heskey as his finishing coach.
This is not a great problem, however, as Sergio Aguero, Diego Milito and err...Martin Palermo sitting on the bench. Though Milito and Aguero's feet dangle 14 feet from the floor as Palermo sits at the other end, planting one end in the ground and firing the opposite end into the stratosphere, like a cartoon boat.
In summary, the next two group games should be used as an exercise for sharpening their shooting and tightening defensively, before any really good teams stand in their way of progress.
Solid start and three points on the board, but I think South Korea will take any chances gifted by Gutiérrez will be taken with more vigour than Nigeria mustered on Saturday.
Oh, and with Maradona's heart, he should calm down on the touchline. He was erratic and did basically every movement designed by man, short of doing the Macarena.
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