Lionel Messi inspired yet another Argentinian victory, this time against Nigeria in their last Group clash on Day 14. Both Messi’s goals were breathtaking but Nigerians fought valiantly until the finish. In a match played at the same time, Bosnia-Herzagovina defeated Iran before bidding an emotional adieu to their first-ever World Cup appearance. Ecuador stifled France’s goal-making machine but by a combination of factors, made a heartbreaking exit from the World Cup. In the other match of the day, Switzerland overpowered Honduras and leap-frogged into play-off phase, helped by Ecuador finishing goalless against France.
Argentina defeated Nigeria 3-2 at Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre to finish as Group F toppers. Since Iran lost to Bosnia-Herzagovina, Nigerians also entered the round of 16 despite their defeat. But spectators at Estadio Beira-Rio were privy to one of the most enthralling game of football on Wednesday afternoon. Two brilliant goals were scored by two men on either side with Lionel Messi setting the tone in the 3rd minute and Nigerian Ahmed Musa responding in the 4th. Always up to something, Messi picked up a rebound from Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who had blocked Angel Di Maria. Before Enyeama could react, Messi’s first-timer had already crashed on the top underside of the net. Not to be undone, Nigerians retaliated immediately with Ahmed Musa moved quickly inside from left beating Pablo Zabaleta and sent a perfect curling shot just inside the far post. Argentina came close to scoring on two other occasions; once, when Messi tried and missed a slider on a pass by Di Maria and again, when Di Maria himself produced a rocket-like boomer from 35 yards, which Enyeama managed to save. Just at the stroke of half-time, Messi was his brilliant best again, when he curled a left-footer from a free-kick that sailed deceptively inside the right-hand post. Immediately after the break, Musa responded with a solo run to finish by wrong-footing Sergio Romero with a low bottom-corner shot. Messi left the field but he was witness to his team’s fine victory, when Marcos Rojo used his knee to score from a corner-kick.
At Arena Fonte Nova Salvador, Bosnia and Herzegovina denied a possible chance to Iran in play-offs and also ended their maiden appearance in the World Cup with a 3-1 victory. Since Argentina had beaten Nigeria, Iran could have made their way to the round of 16, if they had beaten Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the debutants played a great game in thwarting the Iranian intentions. In 23rd minute, Edin Dzeko was fed a pass in Iranian half, with which broke into a solo run. Dzeko dribbled past the defenders, before firing an unstoppable left-footer into the right bottom corner. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s second goal came when, Iranian Jalal Hosseini was dispossessed in his own half by Tino Susic, who fed a great pass to Miralem Pjanic. The Bosnian beat the goalkeeper in style making it 2-0 for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Iran reduced the deficit when, Reza Ghoochannejad scored an easy goal. But Bosnians didn’t relent and in a counter attack, Vrsajevic ran down from right before shooting powerfully into the goal to finish the 3-1 victory for his team.
In Manaus a hat-trick by Xherdan Shaqiri led Switzerland to the play-off stage. Shaqiri’s first goal came in the 6th minute, when he entered the box from the right before passing two Honduran defenders and finishing with a stinging 25-yard left-footer. Shaqiri came back to score again in the 31st minute after he received a pass from Josip Drmic before finding the bottom-right corner with a firm shot. After half-time, Honduras tried to stage a comeback but missed a few goal-scoring chances. In the 71st minute, Shaqiri completed his hat-trick after he received the ball, following some good work by Drmic on the left and finished with an easy shot to take Valladares by surprise.
In the fourth match at Maracana, France found a strong Ecuadorian defense that prevented the scoring throughout the match. There were many attempts from Frenchmen Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Moussa Sissoko but Ecuador were equal to the task in taking the attack into the French territory on several occasions. France’s goal-scoring abilities were not halted by Ecuador alone but coach Didier Deschamps rested midfielder Mathieu Valbuena and attacker Olivier Giroud to make the tie against Ecuador safer. Despite Pogba and Karim Benzema dominating possession, they couldn’t find the target. In the second half, Ecuador played with 10 men as captain Antonio Valencia was red-carded in the 50th minute for wrongfully fouling Digne but the French couldn’t exploit their chances even so. The other Valencia, Enner, who has already scored thrice in this tournament, tried his luck but couldn’t succeed. The goalless end to match implied that Ecuador had to leave their World Cup challenge as Switzerland had beaten Honduras.
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