PORTO ALEGRE Brazil (Reuters) - Argentina need to raise their game and seize their chances to ensure victory over a fast and strong Nigeria side in their final World Cup Group F match, coach Alejandro Sabella said on Tuesday.
The twice former champions have already qualified for the last 16 but narrow wins against lowly debutantes Bosnia and unfancied Iran have been less than convincing for a team who were among the favorites going into the tournament.
Several chances were squandered against Iran before Lionel Messi, who was celebrating his 27th birthday on Tuesday, grabbed the only goal with a stoppage-time winner.
“I‘m worried in the sense we have to improve,” Sabella said. “We need to be more mobile, to find spaces and we will see if the match will be different. We are going to meet a team that can play with high potential, switch to attack with ease.”
Argentina lead Group F with six points and need a draw to ensure qualifying in top spot. A draw would be enough for Nigeria to go through but if they lose and Iran beat Bosnia, the runners-up spot would be decided on goal difference.
Sabella said he had not yet picked his team because some players - he did not say who - still had injury worries but he added that he would likely play a 4-3-3 formation.
Although Nigeria have also struggled to shine, Sabella said he expected a tough game against the African champions.
“I see a fast team attacking swiftly,” he told reporters. “They are strong when they get the ball into attack. It is a team that is very fast and that makes you worry. We have seen some surprises but that doesn’t mean we will have one tomorrow.”
Nigeria are the only side at the tournament who have yet to concede a goal and Sabella paid special tribute to goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama.
“He is one of the pillars of the team. A goalkeeper with great athletic power, fasts reflexes. He’s a great goalkeeper.”
With the exception of Messi, Argentina’s much vaunted attacking spearhead of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel de Maria has failed to come alive in the Sky Blues quest to win the World Cup on their greatest enemy’s territory.
Messi scored what proved to be the winner in the 2-1 victory over Bosnia as well the decisive goal against Iran.
Asked if the team relied too much on the Barcelona player, Sabella said: ”Every time you have a player like Messi there is a dependence. So we try to reduce this dependence but you are always dependent on a player like that.
“This pressure is normal for a great player in the World Cup. We try to take some weight off his shoulders. We are a team, we have to help each other.”
Sabella declined to comment on Argentina’s prospects in the knockout phase but added: “In the coming matches you have to be very cautious. You make a wrong move and you are out. There’s no way back.”
Editing by Ken Ferris