Lionel Messi’s Argentina Goals Seen Hiding Defensive Frailty

Lionel Messi led Argentina to a third straight win at the World Cup, papering over what some opponents say is the two-time champion’s defensive frailty.

Messi, the four-time world player of the year, scored twice and Marcos Rojo once as Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 in Porto Alegre yesterday in front of a 43,285 crowd predominantly made up of their compatriots. The city is some 400 miles (645 kilometers) from Brazil’s border with Argentina.

Argentina, which will play Switzerland in the round of 16 in Sao Paulo on July 1, allowed two goals by 21-year-old winger Ahmed Musa that showed it’s vulnerable in defense, according to Nigeria forward Peter Odemwingie.

“Defense isn’t the strongest part” of Argentina’s game, Odemwingie, 32, told reporters. “If you don’t let them play, they’re in trouble.”

Nigeria finished second in Group F and advanced to face France, the 1998 champion, on June 30 in Brasilia. Iran was eliminated from the group after losing 3-1 to already-out Bosnia-Herzegovina in Salvador.

While Argentina also beat Bosnia 2-1 and Iran 1-0, even the Iranian team, ranked world No. 43, caused its defense some difficulties, Odemwingie said. Messi also scored a goal in each of those earlier games.

The Dutch and the Argentinians were the only two of the six group winners so far to allow three or more goals over their three opening matches. The group winners of groups G and H will be decided today.

Messi Scores

To the delight of tens of thousands of Argentine fans wearing the team’s sky-blue and white jerseys, Messi opened the scoring yesterday in the third minute at the Estadio Beira-Rio when he followed up on Angel Di Maria’s shot, which had bounced off the post.

Almost immediately, 5-foot-6 (1.7-meter) Musa, who plays for CSKA Moscow, cut inside from the left on a counterattack and hit a curling shot into the net past goalkeeper Sergio Romero to make it 1-1.

Messi got his second in first-half stoppage time with a free-kick over the defensive wall. Within two minutes of the restart, Musa levelled again after racing through Argentina’s defense. Rojo made it 3-2 when a corner kick bounced off his knee into the goal after 50 minutes.

Coach Alejandro Sabella substituted Messi with 25 minutes left, after saying a day earlier that traveling around a country the size of Brazil was tiring for his squad.

Two Titles

Messi said Argentina had improved on its performance against Iran even though it conceded two goals, and was “still chasing a shared dream” with its fans as it pursues a third title. It won in 1986 and 1978.

Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano, playing at his third World Cup, said the team was hit on the counterattack by Nigeria but “didn’t suffer too much.”

“I don’t see any reason to worry,” Mascherano said. “It’s not an easy World Cup for anybody: three world champions have gone home already,” Mascherano added, referring to Spain, Italy and England.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Porto Alegre, Brazil at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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