Argentina were on the brink of a humiliating exit from the first round of the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia after their dismal 3-0 loss to Croatia Friday.
The Albiceleste though somewhat returned to contention for a place in the last 16 following Nigeria’s brilliant win against World Cup debutant Iceland a day later.
The permutations are clear now.
Argentina must beat the Super Eagles and hope for a Croatia win against Iceland if they are to advance to the knockout stage. An Argentina win and a draw in the Croatia-Iceland game will also see the two-time champion qualify for the Round of 16 as Group D runners-up.
Argentina are alive in the tournament largely down to Nigeria’s win over Iceland and this was not lost on Albiceleste midfielder Javier Mascherano, who, along with defensive midfielder Lucas Biglia and Argentina Football Association president Claudio Tapia attended the press conference at their base camp in Bronnitsy.
''The result between Nigeria and Iceland was the best that we could have hoped for. That gives you the chance to say 'destiny is giving you another chance’,” said the former Barcelona midfielder, who has the most caps for Argentina.
Even if Iceland were to win against the high-flying Croats, Argentina can still qualify for the last 16 with a resounding victory against the Nigerians.
This however, would be anything but easy as the team are not in good shape at the moment and there are rumours of revolts in the camp.
#WorldCup : POLL— The Voice of America (@VOANews) June 22, 2018
GROUP D: Seems like it just got a little harder for Messi. Croatia's spot is already secure. Who else do you think will make it to the Round of 16 from Group D?
🇮🇸 Iceland pic.twitter.com/ZLo0JcSTOI
Added to that, Nigeria are no pushovers themselves. They registered a delightful performance against Iceland, led by their star attacker Ahmed Musa.
''We know about the noise around the team. We try to live with that. But we worry only about things we can control. [Tuesday], we will seek qualification to the next round,'' Mascherano told reporters.
''But this is not only about the mood, the team need to perform better. The performance is what shows you the reality,” he added.
Tapia however, denied talks of crisis and criticised the media for doing fabricated news. Mascherano echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “The relationship with the coach is completely normal."
Happy birthday Lionel Messi—the boy who has every present but one pic.twitter.com/kUL4ffeDtR— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 24, 2018
Argentina captain Lionel Messi’s performance in Russia is also under the spotlight, especially his attitude in the Croatia defeat. Messi, who turned 31 yesterday, incidentally scored his last World Cup goal, four years ago against Nigeria. If he scores against the Nigerians he will become the first player in the history of the greatest show on earth to score as a teenager, then in his twenties, and later, in his thirties.
When asked about Messi’s mood prior to the high-octane clash in Saint Petersburg, Mascherano said, "Like everyone else, he (Messi) is eager to reverse the image.
"Leo is fine, we all have our frustration, he is a key, key player but he is human and he has frustrations because things do not work out," explained Messi’s former club-mate.
Nigeria have been a common group-stage rival for Argentina in the last couple of World Cup editions. The two teams have met each other in the first hurdle four times with the south Americans turning out victorious on every occasion.
Happy 31st birthday Lionel Messi!— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 24, 2018
Messi is Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer with 64.
He has also made 126 appearances for the Argentine National Team, 3rd most all-time. pic.twitter.com/1b90rZq7sM
This time however, two-time world champion Argentina will not only need to win but win big in the event of an Iceland win against Croatia in Rostov-on-Don.
HOW ARGENTINA CAN QUALIFY
• To qualify, Argentina must win against Nigeria and hope that Iceland lose against Croatia.
• The Albiceleste can also qualify if they beat Nigeria and Iceland draw against Croatia.
• If Iceland manage to win against Croatia then Argentina must defeat Nigeria by a considerable margin.