Big Changes for Argentina
Five changes for Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina tonight. A big one up front — Higuain starts for Aguero — but Di Maria and Marco Rojo also returned to the starting XI. You really can’t argue with mixing it up; it’s not like Argentina was humming along in the first two games.
But will it be enough?
Nigeria’s team is unchanged from its win over Iceland. Because why mess with what’s working, I guess. Big moment for the Super Eagles, though. They’re the youngest team in the tournament, and the chance to send Messi packing means this is quite the stage.
Argentina’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 12 Franco Armani (River Plate)
Defenders: 2 Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), 17 Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), 16 Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), 3 Nicolas Taglafico (Ajax), 14 Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune)
Midfielders: 7 Ever Banega (Sevilla), 11 Angel di María (Paris St Germain), 15 Enzo Perez (Boca Juniors)
Forwards: 10 Lionel Messi (Barcelona), 9 Gonzalo Higuain
Nigeria’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 23 Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna)
Defenders: 5 William Troost Ekong(Bursaspor), 2 Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm), 6 Leon Balogun (Brighton), 22 Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea)
Midfielders: 10 John Mikel Obi (Tianjin Teda), 4 Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), 8 Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense)
Forwards: 7 Ahmed Musa (Leicester), 14 Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester), 11 Victor Moses (Chelsea)
Argentina vs. Nigeria Top Story Lines
• The overarching story line today points its laser focus on one man: Argentina’s Lionel Messi. The player who single-handedly dragged an underperforming team to the World Cup with a hat trick against Ecuador on the final day of qualifying now will be tasked with lugging them into the knockouts here. But Messi has not played well in Russia, feeding deeply set narratives that he is somehow a lesser player for his country than he has been for his club, Barcelona. Those are probably unfair.
• Barcelona is a far more balanced team than this defense-challenged, tactically disjointed Argentina. But he missed a penalty kick that might have beaten Iceland in the opener, and he was ineffective against Croatia. So if he goes out here, it’s possible Messi might be playing his last game for Argentina in a World Cup.
• Sunday was Messi’s 31st birthday. Let’s just assume he didn’t spend it smiling and laughing.
• Nigeria’s double-goalscorer from its last game, Ahmed Musa, may be more comfortable on Russian soil than most of the players here. Musa, 25, has spent much of his career at CSKA Moscow. CSKA sold Musa to Leicester City of the Premier League in 2016, on of its first signings after winning the Premier League title, but he made less than two dozen appearances for the club and was loaned back to CSKA in January. And he’s not in a hurry to go back, telling a Nigerian outlet this week that he was never given a chance after the manager who signed him, Claudio Ranieri, was fired.