Argentina sealed a spot in the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup in dramatic fashion. Argentina needed to beat Nigeria and Iceland needed to lose or draw their match against Group D leaders Croatia for La Albiceleste to seal a Round of 16 spot. Lionel Messi and co. were woeful in their first two matches and a loss to Nigeria looked to be a genuine possibility. But Lionel Messi gave Argentina the lead by scoring his first goal of the tournament and set off a chain of events that ended with Croatia and Argentina qualifying as the group winners and runners-up respectively. Here is how the night panned out:
11.44 AM IST: Nigeria 0-1 Argentina, Lionel Messi 14th min
Lionel Messi controls a brilliant lofted pass that comes over his shoulder from Ever Banega’s feet along the halfway line. It fell on his thigh and he then controlled it with his boot, by which time he was in the box on the right side of goal. He had no defender bearing down on him and fired it into the back of the net before taking off, relief etched on his face. Argentina took the lead and as things stood, were going through because Croatia and Iceland were tied 0-0.
12.40 AM: Nigeria 1-1 Argentina, Victor Moses pen. 51st min
The referee gave a penalty to Nigeria for an alleged foul by Javier Mascherano on Leon Balogun during the usual pushing and pulling that ensues inside the box during a corner kick routine. VAR had its say and the penalty was confirmed. Victor Moses coolly approached the ball, saw the goalkeeper go right and kicked the ball to the other side of the net. Nigeria back on level terms; as things stood, Nigeria were keeping their second place and Argentina were out.
12.42 AM: Iceland 0-1 Croatia, Milan Badelj 53rd min
The ball bounced and bounded its way to Milan Badelj who crashes it into the back of the net with a well-measured volley. Chances of Iceland reaching the knockouts were cut down to half at this point.
1.03 AM: Iceland 1-1 Croatia, Gylfi Sigurdsson pen. 76th min
Dejan Lovren stopped a cross and the referee rightly gives Iceland a penalty. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had missed a spot kick it in their match against Nigeria, stepped up. This time, he made no mistake, slamming down the middle into the underside of the roof of the net and thus giving the Icelandic fairy tale a fighting chance.
1.15 AM: Nigeria 1-2 Argentina, Marcos Rojo 86th min
With Iceland unable to push a second goal past Croatia, this match had become the one that would effectively decide the final Group D knockout spot. Argentina were looking desperate and letting a number of shots fly and Nigeria were pouncing on them whenever they got a chance to counter. But then it all ended when a cross from Gabriel Mercado found Marcos Rojo free in the middle. The Manchester United defender volleyed it first time and the ball crashed into the back of the net triggering delirious celebrations among the Argentine ranks.
1.18 AM: Iceland 1-2 Croatia, Ivan Perisic 90th min
Iceland’s end was confirmed when the Ivan Perisic’s powerful shot was palmed into the net by goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.