World Cup 2018: Nigeria vs Argentina – Lineups, Preview & Prediction

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20:00 BST, Tuesday 26th June, Saint Petersburg Stadium, (Saint Petersburg), BBC

With two games played in Group D, 2014 runners-up Argentina are on the brink of World Cup elimination. They must now defeat Nigeria to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stage.


If the 1-1 draw against Iceland in the opening game wasn’t bad enough, the 3-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia has sparked calls for the coach’s head. 

With so much disharmony in the squad and a lack of direction on the pitch, few imagine Argentina hauling themselves out of their predicament. 

But as long as Lionel Messi is involved, Argentine fans will believe anything is possible.

Meanwhile, after doing their opponents a favour by beating Iceland last week, Nigeria now risk going out against the team they aided. If they lose on Tuesday, they will head home.

Last Time Out

Argentina 0-3 Croatia

There were little signs of what was to come in the opening stages of this group game as Argentina created a few chances and both teams had their fair share of possession. 


However, La Albiceleste failed to get into a rhythm and their World Cup plans were thrown into turmoil when Willy Caballero’s blunder handed Ante Rebic a chance to showcase his volleying skills.

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

There was little the beleaguered keeper could do about Croatia Captain Luka Modric’s long range effort that doubled lead, and by the time Ivan Rakitic made it three, South American heads had already dropped.

The result left Sampaoli’s men bottom of the group with just a single pint on the board, yet still in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout phase.

Nigeria 2-0 Iceland

Nigeria bounced back from their 2-0 defeat to Croatia in style, beating Iceland by the same scoreline thanks to an Ahmed Musa brace.

The Leicester City man showed superb technique to strike in the 49th and 75th minutes to send the Super Eagles flying into second place in the group.


REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Iceland had been marked a team to fear after backing up their Euro 2016 exploits with a draw against Argentina in the opening game in Russia. But Nigeria didn’t get the memo and disposed of their opponents with a ruthless second half display.

Defeat in this game would have sent them home but they now face a showdown against Argentina with both teams battling for second place in the group. 

Nigeria Lineup

Boss Gernot Rohr is unlikely to make any changes as the team looks to carry momentum into this game.

Nigeria should line up in  3-5-2 formation with their three central midfielders starting from a deep position to close the door on Lionel Messi.


Musa impressed from the bench in Nigeria’s opener and his subsequent inclusion against Iceland made all the difference. 

Argentina Lineup

Predicting what team Jorge Sampaoli will send out is hard at the best of times. And with the situation now so desperate, we could see wholesale changes once again.

WIlly Caballero is expected to be dropped after two poor performances, whilst Juventus' Gonzalo Higuain will replace the outspoken Sergio Aguero, despite the Manchester City striker scoring Argentina's only goal of the tournament.

Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega are also expected to return for Marcos Acuna and Enzo Perez.

Key Battle: Lionel Messi (Argentina) vs Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)

No goals. A missed penalty. It’s not been a great start to Russia 2018 for Lionel Messi. But it’s not over yet. 


He and his teammates have one last chance for redemption and if they can pass this test, it might restore some much-needed confidence. 

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The lack of international honours follows the Barcelona player round like a dark cloud and is a stick to beat him with in the ‘greatest of all time’ debate. 

It now seems unlikely that he will ever get that monkey off his back but he won’t quit until time has been called in the last chance saloon.

REUTERS/Toru Hanai

While Messi’s reputation has taken a knock, Ahmed Musa’s has been given a huge boost following his goal-scoring performance against Iceland. 

His two goals, added to the two he scored against Argentina in the 2014 edition of the World Cup, fired him to the top of the Nigerian all-time World Cup scorer charts. 


He is now just two goals short of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan who remains the leading World Cup scorer for an African team.

Talking Points

Have previous close calls jaded Argentina?

One of the big questions leading into this tournament was whether Messi could finally land a major international trophy. 

Argentina lost the 2011 Copa America final on penalties to Uruguay, they were beaten by Germany in extra time in the 2014 World Cup, and they lost two further Copa America finals, both to Chile and both on penalties. 

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Having come so close on so many occasions in the last six years, they were expected to be involved in the latter stages here. But the team has looked lost throughout. 


Many will point the finger at the coach, and rightly so, but past results may have knocked the mental stuffing out a team who have always been denied a cigar in recent years.

How will this tournament affect Messi’s legacy?

The result against Croatia was one few saw coming, but it sparked a social media slugfest.

In the red corner, Cristiano Ronaldo's fans were revelling in Messi’s misery. Surely this result marked their man as the GOAT, the previous decade or more of football suddenly deemed irrelevant to the debate.

In the blue corner, Messi’s fans responded with a bombardment of stats and key exhibits to back up their hero.

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

But with neither team yet qualified for the knockout phase nor eliminated from the tournament, the protagonists of this parley were jumping the gun. 


Whatever the outcome over the next few weeks, it is a debate that is set to rumble on, long after both players have hung up their boots. 

Prediction: Nigeria 0-1 Argentina

Despite their failings so far, Argentina still boost a wealth of talent in their squad. If they can make the right team selection for this game, and get their heads straight, they can still prevail. 

That means bringing in Roma’s Federico Fazio, Sevilla’s Ever Banega and Paulo Dybala of Juventus to add extra quality in three key areas. With those changes, the South American team could find themselves in the Round of 16.