ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Nigeria have no sympathy for the struggles of Argentina striker Lionel Messi at the World Cup and will do everything they can to bring his tournament to a premature end when the teams meet in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
Argentina, bottom of Group D, need victory to progress to the knockout stages and must also hope Iceland do not beat Croatia, because that could send them out anyway, depending on goal difference.
Nigeria, second in the group, will advance if they beat Argentina, while a draw may also prove to be enough even if third-placed Iceland beat Croatia.
The match may be Messi’s last at a World Cup if his team do not escape their group. The 31-year-old has so far struggled to make an impact, missing a penalty in the 1-1 draw with Iceland and being marked out of the game in the emphatic 3-0 defeat by Croatia.
“We love this great player Messi, everybody loves him. But the question for us is not if it’s the last World Cup for him,” Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr told reporters on Monday.
“We are not here to watch him play. We’re here to get a result. We are professionals and we have to defend the colors of Nigeria. In football there is no mercy, no pity. Everybody wants to win.”
Defender Brian Idowu, who joined his coach at the news conference, said Nigeria’s only choice was to try and bring Messi’s World Cup to an end.
“I never thought about it, but that’ll be our main goal - to make it Messi’s last World Cup game,” he said. “As much as we love watching Messi play, there’s only one option and it has to be that he plays his last game here in St Petersburg.”
Idowu added Nigeria would have to be very wary of giving away fouls close to their penalty area given Messi’s ability from dead ball situations.
“The main important thing... is just don’t make stupid fouls near the box. We’re going to be aggressive but avoid the unnecessary fouls near the box,” he said.
Skipper John Obi Mikel has a small fracture in his left hand but should be able to play with a protective cast, while Rohr is also concerned that his team have had a day less to prepare than Argentina.
“We know that this will be a hard battle,” the German said. “They have to win. Perhaps a draw can be enough for us but it’s not sure. We also want to win, so it could be a very spectacular football game tomorrow.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings in St Petersburg; Editing by Christian Radnedge