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Messi dazzles as Argentina tops Nigeria to make last 16

AP

Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 in their last World Cup group match on Wednesday, with Lionel Messi and Ahmed Musa scoring two goals each before Marcos Rojo kneed in the winner.

Argentina won Group F while Nigeria also advanced despite the loss, becoming the first African team in the round of 16 in Brazil.

Messi had his best match of the World Cup so far, scoring twice in the first half to boost his tournament total to four goals, and repeatedly cutting up Nigeria’s defense with dazzling runs and clever passes.

“We played against a team that wanted to play,” Messi said. “I think we saw a good Argentina. We need to continue on this path.”

The Argentina captain needed less than three minutes to finish Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s clean sheet in Brazil, slamming in the rebound after Angel Di Maria’s shot bounced off the post. Nigeria replied within a minute as Musa cut in from the left and beat Sergio Romero with a curling shot toward the far post.

Nearing halftime Messi tested Enyeama with a 25-meter free kick that the goalkeeper struggled to push to a corner. Having found his aim, Messi was ice cold when Nigeria gave up another free kick just moments later from a slightly shorter distance.

This time Enyeama was stunned as the ball hooked over the wall and slipped in just inside the post.

“Messi is one heck of a player, he’s blessed. You can’t take it away from him,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said. “Messi is from Jupiter, he is different.”

The second half started at the same furious pace as the first, with two goals within the first five minutes. First Musa took advantage of confusion in the Argentine defense to score his second. Then Rojo made it 3-2 as he got his right knee on a corner kick three minutes later.

Both teams continued to chase more goals but the intensity dropped off somewhat as Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella substituted Messi after the hour-mark.

The Barcelona wizard enjoyed the space he was given by Nigeria, which surged forward rather than locking down in defense like Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran did against Argentina. He has scored in each of the team’s three matches.

Finding more space to attack, Argentina created more chances than in its previous games, but its defense caved in on both of Musa’s goals. Another concern for Argentina: Striker Sergio Aguero was injured in the first half, and replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi.

“I think we had a lot of chances, and could have scored a few more goals,” Sabella said.

Tens of thousands of Argentine fans had traveled to Porto Alegre for the match, taunting Brazilian spectators by singing “Maradona is greater than Pele” at the 44,000-capacity Beira-Rio Stadium.

The Brazilians booed and held up five fingers to remind the Argentines of how many World Cups they’ve won. Argentina has two.

Suarez awaits fate

Rio de Janeiro AP

As the world was judging Uruguay’s Luis Suarez for biting a player in the World Cup, his teammates, coaches and fans in his soccer-crazy country defended the star, blaming the foreign media, his Italian opponents and uneven treatment.

World Cup organizers scrambled Wednesday to quickly decide on a punishment before Uruguay plays Colombia Saturday in the round of 16.

“We have to resolve it either today or tomorrow,” FIFA disciplinary panel member Martin Hong told reporters Wednesday. “It’s our duty to see justice done.”

The disciplinary committee meeting was already underway on Wednesday evening, FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said.