The fans packing the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg were treated to a veritable master class from Argentina’s Lionel Messi this evening in his side's 1-0 win over the Super Eagles. With the ball glued to his left foot, every dribble and feint had the spectators off their feet as he tested the Nigeria back line throughout.
“I always want to see Lionel near the ball, and that’s where he was today. When he’s enjoying himself, everybody enjoys themselves. Football wouldn’t be such a beautiful game if he didn’t get on the ball,” said La Albiceleste coach Diego Maradona on the FIFA World Player for 2009. “I’m happy for him, he deserves this acclaim,” said Juan Sebastian Veron, who shares a room here in South Africa with La Pulga.
And what did the man himself have to say after making only his second start at the finals of a FIFA World Cup™? “I felt really comfortable with the ball today, which is what really matters to me,” said the Barcelona superstar. “We were able to put some passages of good football together and we deserved to have won by more. It was really important to win our opening game, much more so than how I played today.
“We knew that we had to kick off the tournament on the right foot and we didn’t slip up,” continued the Rosario-born little magician. “We shed the pressure that we’d been under in qualifying, which was important, and we put the bad things behind us. Now we need to start thinking about Korea [Republic], but we’ve got time.”
Over in the Nigeria camp too, there was only praise for Argentina's No10. “He’s the best player in the world and he proved it this evening,” said Super Eagles keeper and Budweiser Man of the Match Vincent Enyeama. “The Argentinians are good going forward but he’s simply unbelievable. Our defence did what they could but we just couldn’t handle him.”
Nigeria substitute Peter Odemwingie concurred: “We’ve just been talking to each other in the dressing rooms and we all said how difficult it is to play against Messi and how fast he is. I think we did the best we could to try and stop him and the rest of them, but they’re a first-class team.” Up next for Messi and Co in Group B are Korea Republic, 2-0 victors over Greece earlier in the day, while Nigeria have the opportunity to get their bid for a place in the knockout rounds back on track against the Greeks.