In Messi Argentina trusts, in God Messi trusts. Look, how God whispered to Messi's ears! It was the first soft touch he made to cushion the ball, then he rolled it into his choicest position, and lastly, as God wished exactly, he swept the ball past Francis Uzoho, Nigeria's goalkeeper, sending his nation and outrageous football spectators on the planet into a wild rhapsody. His next immediate job was to look up the heavens, outstretch his arms in supplication before whispering back to God two Spanish words: "Gracias, Dios" (Thanks God).
There was a lull, again with God's intervention, when Javier Alejandro Mascherano, an Argentine midfielder, conceded a penalty shortly after halftime. Victor Moses, a Nigerian winger, easily slid his penalty kick past Franco Armani, the Argentine goalkeeper. Messi's goal was cancelled out by Moses's! Was it a 'Yellow Card' God showed to Messi? Yes.
Nigeria, which needed only a draw to advance, was miraculously alive. The wobbly Argentina were back though, frenetically restless, only missing on passes and whining to the referee for penalties and yellow cards. Oh, no! God could not afford to be so cruel to Argentina.
Then at the 86th minute, in the blink of an eye, as if they got an SMS from somewhere up in the cloud, Gabriel Iván Mercado, the Argentine defender, crossed the ball and Marcos Rojo, the central Argentine defender, showed to the world the purest, the most sumptuous, the most divine and the most picture-perfect volley, sparking turbulent thunders that made the stadium tremble in an earthquake of euphoria.
Marcos Rojo and Gabriel Mercado rescued Argentina's World Cup when it looked as though all was lost.
A glimmer of hope, however, beckoned Nigeria when Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir very nearly handed them a second penalty kick late in the second half. But VAR's dictatorial command said: "NO". A draw, if VAR kindly facilitated, would have provided a golden opportunity for a goal that would have almost guaranteed Nigerian advancement. Instead, Nigerians had collapsed and ended up standing in shock on the side-line, gaping at Argentina revelling.
Tuesday night will remain blinking for years to come to the eyes of Argentina fans. Argentina, within a handful of minutes, with their unstoppable strikers, a bit stifling midfield, and the lightning quick attacks delivered a thrilling 2-1 win over Nigeria with little margin for error.
The Argentine win, combined with Croatia's defeat of Iceland, has now sent Argentina through to the knockout round, where they will face the giant France. Was that heart-beat-stopping drama essential? Yes. Because God waited and murmured to Messi's ears: "You are not God of Argentina".
Argentina have emerged from behind the clouds with Rojo snatching his country away from humiliation and shame, catapulting his drowning country to the last 16, ending a 90-minute live episode of a never-ending telenovela. Argentina made it. Messi and Rojo made it. There is more of Argentine works to come, starting with France in the last 16.
Argentina's boisterous victory drowned out noises of celebrations and agonies of defeats in other matches of the night where Peru beat 2-0 Australia, Croatia beat 2-1 Iceland and Denmark had drawn 0-0 with France.
Peru's victory over Australia was historically poignant. It was their first win at a World Cup finals since 1978. Australia needed to defeat already-eliminated Peru and hope France beat Denmark in order to reach the last 16. But fortune didn't smile on Australia this time. Excellent defending from Anderson Santamaría Bardales, the Peruvian defender, denied Mathew Allan Leckie, the Australian player, a close-range equaliser as Australia struggled only for survival.
Denmark's fabulous draw 0-0 with France was in contrast with the gaoling behaviour of this World Cup where every game had produced at least one.
Croatia, along with their 4.28 million people, accomplished a perfect three-for-three first round and eliminated Iceland from the World Cup with their 2-1victory in Rostov, a town in western Russia, on the banks of the vast Lake Nero.
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