Magical Messi inspires Argentina to victory over Nigeria

JOHANNESBURG: Lionel Messi conjured a spellbinding opening to the World Cup highlighting Argentina''s 1-0 win over Nigeria in their Group B match at Ellis Park Stadium here on Saturday.

The world''s best player was in irresistible form as the two-time world champions dominated Nigeria, but only had Gabriel Heinze''s sixth-minute goal to show for their superiority in an exhilarating spectacle before 55,686 noisy fans.

Messi taunted the Africans with his mesmerising skill and virtuosity and was denied his first goal at South Africa 2010 only by the acrobatic saves of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

With coach Diego Maradona prowling his sideline technical area for the whole match, Argentina could not find the second killer goal as the uninhibited Nigerians came close several times in the second half to grabbing an equaliser.

It was a rasping Messi volley tipped over the bar by Enyeama that indirectly led to the only goal in the opening minutes.

Sebastian Veron''s corner picked up unmarked Heinze hurtling in late and the Marseille defender headed powerfully past Enyeama to send the large contingent of Argentine fans wild.

Argentina had numerous scoring chances, none more so than Messi''s charge on goal nine minutes from time.

Yet again he was thwarted by Enyeama''s blocking feet to keep the Nigerians in the game.

On another occasion Carlos Tevez triggered a counter-attack from deep inside his own half in the 65th minute and set up Messi only for him to shoot agonisingly past the post with Enyeama beaten.

Left-back Taye Taiwo came closest for Nigeria in the second half with his thumping volley just fizzing past the far post on 71 minutes.

But the Nigerians made the openings only to spoil their chances with errant finishing with Hoffenheim''s left winger Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi going close on a couple of occasions in the first half.

Argentina''s Newcastle United defensive midfielder Jonas Gutierrez and Nigeria midfielder Lukman Haruna picked up yellow cards in the match.

Argentina have won all three of their matches with Nigeria at the World Cup after winning 2-1 at the 1994 tournament in the USA - Maradona''s last international appearance as he was then sent home in disgrace for failing a drugs test - and 1-0 at the 2002 Korea/Japan edition.

Nigeria''s last victory at the World Cup was back in 1998 when they beat Bulgaria 1-0 and since then the Super Eagles have lost five games and drawn one.