June 24, 2014 11:15:40 pm
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi offered birthday boy Lionel Messi best wishes on Tuesday but warned the Argentine to expect no gifts from the Super Eagles who will be fighting for their World Cup lives when the two sides meet in a Group F clash.
While Argentina have already clinched their place in the last 16, the Nigerians enter Wednesday’s match at Beira Rio stadium with their fate in their own hands, a draw enough to guarantee they will make the knockout phase.
Anything less and the African champions could find themselves headed home and Iran, who play Bosnia, progressing in their place.
One of world soccer’s marquee names and most feared strikers, Messi turned 27 on Tuesday. He will get the chance to celebrate belatedly in Porto Alegre along with 80,000 of his Argentine compatriots who are expected to flood into this gritty port city for the match.
But the Super Eagles hope there will be no other reason for an Argentine party.
“Oh, it is his birthday, happy birthday. That’s a great day,” laughed Keshi. “My team and I want to wish him a very happy birthday, we wish him a healthy long life and we will see him at the game tomorrow (Wednesday).
STUDYING MESSI’S MOVES
Make no mistake, the Nigerians are sure to see plenty of Messi on Wednesday as the Argentines look to lock up top spot in the group.
Argentina were among the favourites going in to the tournament but despite a much-vaunted front four and two wins from two games, they have yet to come alive, with the exception of some moments of match-winning magic from Messi, who has scored twice.
“Messi is one of the best players in the world and everybody knows it,” said Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. “But it is not a game between me and him.
“It is going to game between Nigeria and Argentina. Everybody is talking about Messi but there is (Gonzalo) Higuain (Angel) Di Maria there is a whole lot of players.
“Messi is a genius, Messi is probably one of the greatest players football has every produced but you cannot rule out other players.”
Enyeama knows better than most the challenge that awaits on Wednesday but will not be afraid of another showdown with Messi.
At the 2010 World Cup, Enyeama stood tall against Messi and the vaunted Argentine attack before falling 1-0 to the South Americans through a goal from defender Gabriel Heinze.
Over the four years Enyeama said he has studied tapes of Messi and is well prepared to face him again.
“I have watched tape of my opponents. We have done that has a team,” said Enyeama. “We have studied what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are so it is not for me to stand here and tell you what I see in these tapes.
“Tapes are for me and my coach and my colleagues.”