A thump of the left boot followed by a caress and Lionel Messi had inspired Argentina to yet another win, their third straight at this FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil, with the South Americans coming out on top against Nigeria in an enthralling goals-are-made-to-be-scored-in-the-opening-minutes Group F match in Porto Alegre.
Two goals inside the first five minutes of either half, with another one coming right at the end of the first 45, culminated in a 3-2 victory for Argentina, a victory which confirmed top spot in Group F for one of the tournament favourites.
I-want-that-golden-boot Messi opened the scoring for Argentina, before Ahmed Musa struck back immediately. The Argentine wonder would be at it again making it 2-1 for his side, only to see Musa grab his brace to draw parity. However, Marcos Rojo would decide the game five minutes into the second half to make it three wins out of three for the Argentines.
Argentina will now play the runners-up of Group E, which looks like being either Ecuador or Switzerland, although there is a slight chance of it being France as well, even if it might be extremely unlikely. Nigeria, despite the defeat, also qualify to the round of 16, after Iran failed to pick up the needed victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina, who bowed out of the tournament with an assured 3-1 victory over the Asian side.
The game in Porto Alegre could not have started off better, with Argentina, determined not to carry on with their measured approach and really amp the pace up from the off, opening the scoring with just over two minutes gone.
Angel Di Maria saw his strike from 12 yards saved onto the post by Vincent Enyeama, with the ball then rebounding off the keeper and hitting the post again. This time the ball popped out just outside the six yard area, and Messi was on hand to slam the ball into the roof of the net.
There was no time for Argentina to enjoy the opener, as Nigeria struck a minute later, with the old saying of being most vulnerable right after you have scored hitting the South Americans hard. Michael Babatunde made a nice run down the middle, before slipping a pass to Ahmed Musa down the left channel. Musa took a touch to create some space beyond Pablo Zabaleta, before curling the ball wonderfully past Sergio Romero.
Argentina, with thousands and thousands of supporters roaring them on, were caught a little by that quickfire equaliser, but that did not stop their attacking intent. Angel Di Maria, invisible in the first two matches, finally had a good game, taking shots from distance every time he came within range, and forcing a couple of saves as well, with one in particular well kept out by Enyeama diving to his left.
Messi was also much more involved, playing a nice through ball to Gonzalo Higuain, who just missed the target after a quick rounding of the keeper. Argentina's pace going forward was unrelenting, in stark contrast to the laboured build-up in the first two games – they were also helped by the fact that Nigeria were not afraid to attack either, which in turn did open up quite a bit of space.
Argentina's second goal came right on the stroke of halftime, with that fantastic left foot of Messi coming to the fore again. Messi forced a good solid save from Enyeama a moment before winning another freekick, this time a little closer to goal. The first strike was headed into the top corner, but just did not have enough pace on it to nestle into the net, allowing Enyeama to palm the ball away.
The second one, though, was perfect – over the wall, dip in time and thud into the net, with Enyeama unable to come even close.
Argentina went into halftime 2-1 up, but they hardly had any time to build on that lead as Nigeria struck at the start of the second with Musa again scoring in the 47th minute to make it 2-2. The Nigeria forward played a nice one-two with Emmanuel Emenike and stormed his way into the box, before coolly slotting the ball past Romero.
Two goals had been scored in the first five minutes of the first half, with one each for either side -- the first ever time that has happened in the World Cup – and two would be scored within the first five minutes of the second half as well, as Marcos Rojo kneed the ball into goal from a corner -- with it becoming the first player not named Messi to score for Argentina at this World Cup.
Messi would not have the opportunity to complete his hat-trick, as Alejandro Sabella substituted his talisman keeping in mind all the challenges ahead with the little wizard leaving the pitch to deafening applause.
There were plenty of half-chances that followed the five goals, but neither side could trouble the scorers again as Argentina ended their campaign with a perfect record, and Nigeria with a place in the last 16.
In the second match of Group F, Iran were unable to get the required win as Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had no chance of qualifying having lost their first two games, pulled off a comfortable 3-1 victory in Salvador.
Edin Dzeko opened the scoring for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 23rd minute, thumping a left-footed strike from distance into the bottom corner, before playing a through ball for Miralem Pjanic to slot home nicely in the 59th minute.
Iran, who needed a minimum of three points to usurp Nigeria to second place, pulled one back via Reza Ghoochannnejad, who tapped in on 82 minutes for Iran's first goal of the tournament, only for Bosnia-Herzegovina to put the issue beyond doubt via a brilliant angled strike from Avdija Vrsajevic.
Bosnia, courtesy the victory, finished third in Group F on three points, on behind Nigeria, while Iran ended bottom, having managed just one point.