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The Super Eagles are in Saint Petersburg with the aim of ending Argentina’s World Cup dream and sending Lionel Messi home early

Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Saint Petersburg

“I’ll show Messi who’s boss”, said Manuel Neuer famously before the 2015 Champions League semi-final clash between Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

What happened afterwards was a disaster for both Neuer and his defender Jerome Boateng. First, Neuer conceded a goal at his near post. Second, Boateng was on the ground and Neuer was forced into submission when Messi chipped the ball over the German goalkeeper’s head. In their own stadium. Bayern had to bow to Messi.

The advantage of the internet is that you can easily find direct quotes. Neuer said to L’Equipe before that game, “I have a lot of respect for Messi and everything that he has achieved. He is very humble. But it’s crucial to show authority when we meet on the pitch and show him who’s boss. I did the same in the World Cup final and this worked out pretty well.”

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Critics were of the opinion that Neuer should not have hurt the ego of Messi in such a way.

Did Brian Idowu know this? Perhaps not. If so, the footballer may not have said what he did in the official press conference before the all-important Nigeria v Argentina match in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday. 

“I hope he plays his last game here in Saint Petersburg. We all like to see Leo Messi play but now I want to eliminate him,’ said Idowu.

That sounds like an open challenge from the Saint Petersburg-born player, who opted to play for Nigeria, to one of the all-time best footballers in the world. 

The Argentine captain and his country’s form in the ongoing World Cup have been instrumental to allow even the unheralded Brian Idowu to try and eliminate Messi.

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They say moments make or mar a game. Argentina have had two such occasions. In the first, there was a penalty from Leo Messi that was saved against Iceland. Willy Caballero, the Chelsea man then gave Croatia the golden opportunity to go ahead in a tight match. Both happened in the second half, Messi missing on 65th minute while Caballero gifted the goal in 53rd.  Those two moments have defined La Albiceleste’s fate in Russia so far.

Now Argentina are in a position where even a win against Nigeria in their last match may not be enough, with the Albiceleste dependent on Croatia overcoming Iceland. 

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Jorge Sampaoli has no other options left. What he said, too, reflected his aim. “We have to make our goal of winning five matches and reaching the final. Our first final will be on Tuesday. We have no alternative. But we have the team to do it.”

The former Chile boss seems to be in virtual world rather than the ‘real world’ he preached the media to live in.

The capital of Russia was transferred from Saint Petersburg to Moscow in 1918. Exactly 100 years after, another uninspiring performance from Lionel Messi on Tuesday could hand the kingdom of football to the Portuguese number seven, despite missing Ronaldo missing his latest penalty versus Iran. Everything is hanging in the balance. 

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