Defender Gabriel Heinze scored in the seventh minute to guide Argentina to a 1-0 win over Nigeria Saturday in Group B action from the World Cup.
The main story line
And a defender shall lead them.
Coach Diego Maradona fielded an attacking starting 11 with three of the most dangerous players in the world up front — Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain. The front line was also supported by the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria in midfield.
But it was Heinze, a veteran defender, who provided all the offence that the Argentines would need on this day.
That's not to say Messi, touted as the best player in the world, didn't have chances. He had plenty, but Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama came up with some big saves to thwart the Argentine wizard. Higuain also failed to convert three good chances.
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The winning goal
This was a classic Argentine set piece. Veron whipped a corner kick into the box, and Heinze broke away from his defensive marker and powered home a beautiful header past Enyeama.
Turning point of the game
Nigeria was furiously pressing for the equalizer in the 78th minute when substitute Obafemi Martins unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box. But goalkeeper Sergio Romero beat the ball away to snuff out the scoring chance and help Argentina hold on to the lead.
What this result means
With the win, Argentina moves into a tie for first place with South Korea in Group B. Both teams have three points, but the Asians lead the group because they have scored two goals, compared to one for the South Americans. Winless Nigeria and Greece each have zero points.
Argentina looks poised to move on to the second round, probably needing only a win in their last two matches. Nigeria, on the other hand, has it all to do. A loss in their next game, against Greece, would likely eliminate the Africans from contention.
Man of the match
If not for the heroic efforts of Enyeama, Nigeria could have easily lost by a much larger margin. The Nigerian goalkeeper made a handful of highlight-reel saves, including several on Messi.
Save of the match
Lionel Messi had his sights set firmly on goal and should have made it 2-0 for Argentina in the 38th minute when he delivered a curling shot that look destined for the upper-left corner of the net. But Enyeama made a fabulous fingertip stop to deny the Argentine.
The Argentine perspective
"The team made good moves, but we ended up suffering. That's the law of soccer. Thank God we won the game. To begin a World Cup in winning fashion gives you a certain sense of calmness. The only thing that concerns me is that we won a big game." — coach Diego Maradona
The Nigerian perspective
"Of course, I'm very disappointed. 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." — Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback
Argentina takes on South Korea in Johannesburg on June 17 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:15 am ET), while Nigeria meets Greece on the same day in Bloemfontein (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:45 am ET).