Argentina can breathe again. Nigeria have blown World Cup Group D wide open in the race for second spot behind Croatia, and set up a tantalising showdown between Gernot Rohr's side and the South Americans on matchday three.
It was fitting that Nigeria, on Russian soil, managed what England could not in France in 2016: namely, beat Iceland. It was fitting because it was Ahmed Musa who inspired them. The forward never settled at Leicester City, never showed enough of his qualities to a Premier League audience, but Volgograd Arena witnessed the real deal, the man who has excelled at CSKA Moscow.
At half-time, it looked as though the entertaining 2018 finals, still without a goalless draw, was about to be hauled down into the doldrums.
Nigeria became the first team since South Korea four years ago to fail to register a shot in the first half of a World Cup match. They tried 10 crosses and completed none of them. Within 18 minutes, Iceland matched the number of efforts on target they managed in the whole game against Argentina: a whole two of them.
The neutrals must thank Rohr for whatever he said at half-time. After only 14 seconds of the second half, Nigeria had Iceland looking rattled, with Oghenekaro Etebo testing Hannes Halldorsson after a swift break.
Three minutes later, they had the breakthrough: Victor Moses' cross was not the best and Musa's first touch looked a little fortuitous, but his finish was emphatic.
It forced Iceland to throw off the shackles and suddenly we had some entertainment. It also meant that famous defensive rigidity of theirs had to be disregarded, a glimmer of a soft underbelly shown. Musa took full advantage 15 minutes from the end, dancing past defenders and goalkeeper before picking his spot.
The 25-year-old has now scored all four of his side's most recent World Cup goals and nobody has managed more for the Super Eagles at football's grandest event. Only the crossbar denied him a hat-trick on Friday. There are few more singularly important players for any of the 32 teams in Russia.
It means we are still waiting for the first 0-0 draw of these finals; a goal in the match between Serbia and Switzerland will match the record of 26 from 1954. It has also offered a stay of execution for Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina, and Lionel Messi, who will have one more chance to keep their tournament alive when they face Nigeria in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
It would not be fair to put all the focus on Messi's reprieve, though. This is the moment to praise Nigeria and Musa, their own undisputed attacking star, for breathing life into their finals when it mattered most.
21 de septiembre 2018
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