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Argentina opened its World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday, clinging nervously to an early goal from Gabriel Heinze after failing to convert a number of clear opportunities.

Heinze scored in the sixth minute after taking advantage of slack marking to power in a diving header from 12 yards from Juan Sebastian Veron's corner.

The Nigerians boasted a clear height advantage, but struggled for much of the match to contain diminutive Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who tormented them with his piercing movement and almost-magnetic ball control.

Striker Gonzalo Higuain failed to convert three good chances, including what seemed a certain goal in the fourth minute. Messi, too, came agonizingly close on several occasions.

Many say that Messi rarely plays well for his country, but the FIFA World Player of the Year with Barcelona posed an immediate threat to the Nigerians.

After seeing Higuain spurn the early chance, Messi tried a solo effort two minutes later, forcing a flying, one-handed save from goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

Enyeama then leapt to thwart Messi after he had cut in from the right-hand touchline and sent in a curling strike.

"We're not going to kill ourselves. We have two more games to play," Enyeama said. "We thank God the score was a little encouraging."

Nigeria responded with some fluent passing and the main threat to the South Americans came from the imposing Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi, who repeatedly got the better of fullback Martin Demichelis and Veron in midfield, bursting down the left but watching his crosses come to nothing.

The second half began in the same manner, with Argentina pressing to extend the lead. In the 48th minute, Messi flicked a cross from the right wide of the left post.

In the 79th, the misfiring Higuain was replaced by Diego Milito, who failed to make the starting lineup despite his two goals in the Champions League final for Inter Milan. Two minutes later, Messi broke clear but again failed to hit the target, shooting against the goalkeeper's legs.

Nigerians almost pull it out

The Argentines almost paid for their squandered chances, as the Nigerians grew in confidence.

Taye Taiwo came close to tying it with a low effort that flew just past Sergio Romero's left post. Substitute Kalu Uche then scooped a weak shot over the crossbar from inside the box with only eight minutes left.

"I'm very disappointed," Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback said. "Unfortunately, there was a mistake from our side that created the corner kick.

"We were sleeping on one of the corners and that was enough. We were punished this time."

Argentina coach Diego Maradona prowled around the technical area throughout the match, with hands clasped behind his back. For the first time as Argentina coach, he wore a suit — a stark contrast to the image of him hurling himself, track-suited, into a puddle on the field when Argentina all but secured qualification with a last-gasp win over Peru last year.

The Ellis Park stadium was full of Argentine blue-and-white shirts, with banners of Maradona, Che Guevara and Argentine clubs draped all around.