The game’s an original drama unlike any other, but for 40 minutes of Argentina versus Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium, this felt like a rerun. There was Javier Mascherano, bloodied, stretching every sinew as the side’s aging lynchpin and guilty of doing too much. There was Messi, elevated by his moment of genius but now on the periphery with Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Cristian Pavon fecklessly roaming around the forward positions.
And there was Higuain. There he was with a chance to finally, finally make amends and play the hero in the 80th minute. The cutback to the striker, standing completely unmarked eight yards from goal, sent the stadium into premature raptures. But there was Higuain. Yes, there was Higuain.
Higuain with the chance ... but no dice!If these results hold, Argentina would be ELIMINATED. pic.twitter.com/e6HoRRWLb5
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) June 26, 2018
As the clock ticked past the 85th minute, this felt terribly sad for Argentina, but it also felt justified this time around. On the evidence of play so far, Argentina’s just not a top 16 team in the world.
But Marcos Rojo’s immaculately composed side foot in the 86th minute changed all that. This team is top 16.
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 26, 2018
When we joined the FOX team back in the studio, Ian Wright questioned what Argentina was even celebrating. It’s a fair enough question when you always judge this Argentina side on the basis of having reached three consecutive major finals, but it’s obviously time to be a bit more honest with ourselves about what Argentina actually is.
This game had a sense of déjà vu but the stakes had well and truly changed.
Argentina will now take on France on June 30 and we’ll be hit with the same analysis — can Messi pull it off by himself? Can the likes of Higuain and Aguero deliver? Can Argentina’s midfield go toe-to-toe with N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba?
The answer for all of those things is no. It’s gonna end tragically.
But at least this time it didn’t. Argentina again delivered where many expected it to fail, just like when visiting Quito back in October. That won’t be enough — it’s never enough apart from winning it all — but realistically, Argentina’s already overachieved.