Argentina make winning start
Argentina secured a 1-0 victory over Nigeria in what was a scrappy affair at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
By Mike Barton
Last Updated: 12/06/10 5:48pm
Argentina secured victory over Nigeria in what was a scrappy affair at Ellis Park in Johannesburg with a 1-0 victory.
Gabriel Heinze headed the early winner from a corner for Diego Maradona's side in an open game full of chances, but worryingly for Argentina their key players failed to hit the back of the net.
Lionel Messi created and missed several chances to kill the match off, denied on many occasions by keeper Vincent Enyeama, who was outstanding throughout.
Maradona was just as animated throughout the game, with constant passionate gestures and barking orders at his team from the touchline to try and organise his side who were, at times, sloppy in possession.
The Super Eagles had some significant openings themselves, with Kalu Uche coming closest for his side late into the game but striking a half volley over the bar after a clever cross from Yakubu.
Argentina made their way through the game with constant clever passes and creating several opportunities, however they lacked a killer instinct that could come back to haunt them against sides with more clinical quality.
Messi made a lively start and one mesmerising run from deep saw him ghost past three Nigeria defenders and pick out Gonzalo Higuain with a low cross, but the Real Madrid striker sidefooted an easy chance wide from close range.
The Barcelona forward then had a goalbound curling shot tipped over by Enyeama.
But from the resulting corner Argentina went ahead, with five minutes played. Juan Sebastian Veron swung the ball in from the right and Marseille defender Heinze, running towards the penalty spot, sent a powerful diving header into the top left corner.
Messi was then allowed to cut in from the right, leaving Chinedu Obasi on his backside and his curling left-footed shot was destined for goal until Enyeama at full stretch parried it away.
Messi and Carlos Tevez were causing confusion for the Nigerians by taking turns to drop deep and move forward, and when the Manchester City man received the ball in a deeper position after 20 minutes his through-ball found Higuain bursting into the box but Enyeama dashed out to make the block.
Sani Kaita miscued an attempted volley wide for the Africans who stepped up the pressure for a short period. Neat passing from Dickson Etuhu and Yakubu created an opening for Obasi but his low cross was just too far ahead of Yakubu as the Everton man tried to slot it home.
Messi again tested Enyeama to the limit with another curling effort destined for the right-hand corner of the goal but the goalkeeper stretched out his left hand to claw the ball away.
Walter Samuel headed a presentable chance over the top from a Veron corner six minutes into the second half and the Inter Milan defender almost released Angel Di Maria with a long ball but the Benfica man could not bring it under control.
Messi won a corner after a pacy dribble took him away from the Nigeria defence, with Chidi Odiah blocking his effort.
A swift break at the other end saw substitute Obafemi Martins square the ball to Kaita, but his 30-yard shot was far too ambitious and sailed over.
The game was becoming more stretched and Tevez strode forward before picking out Messi, whose low left-footed shot was just wide and the Barca man then teed up Higuain, whose shot was again blocked by the ever-alert Enyeama.
Argentina's failure to kill the game off almost cost them as Peter Odemwingie played the ball inside to left-back Taye Taiwo, and his thunderous low effort had the beating of Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero but just skidded wide of the right post.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero then had to punch clear a shot from Martins as the 'Jabulani' World Cup ball threatened to make a mug of him with its changes of movement in the air.
It was clearly not going to be Messi's afternoon to score as Enyeama spread himself to block after a wonderful interchange with Di Maria as the game entered its final 10 minutes.
Nigeria could have levelled seconds later when Yakubu's cross from the right found substitute Uche, but the Almeria midfielder struggled to get over the ball and could not keep his left-footed shot down, and Yakubu drilled another shot over the top from long range with three minutes left.
But it was Argentina's day as the early Heinze effort proved the difference.