The Argentines had by far the greater number of chances and Lionel Messi was at the center of all their moves. But the Barcelona striker was profligate in front of goal, and Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyema had an outstanding match.
Argentina started brightly, with Messi looking dangerous every time he got the ball. He released Carlos Tevez in the first minute and Gonzalo Hugain two minutes later but neither could quite find the net.
Just moments later Messi himself came close when he lofted a shot towards the top corner from 19 yards out that was well stopped by Enyema.
The goal wasn’t long in coming though, and it was defender Gabriel Heinze who got it. In the 6th minute, Heinze threw himself at a Juan Sebastian Veron corner to head the ball into the net. The goal was controversial, however, as his defensive partner Walter Samuel held back Obanni to allow Heinze a free header.
Heinze’s goal calmed the game a little but both teams were looking to play attacking football. Messi brought out another great save from Enyema with a curling shot in the 18th minute and Higuain should have made it two when Tevez put him clear on goal shortly after. Once again, Enyema brought off a great block save to foil the Real Madrid striker.
But it wasn’t all Argentina. Argentina is highly vulnerable at the back with Jonas Gutierrez and Heinze floundering and Martin Demichelis looking out of his depth. Nigeria probed those weaknesses down the left wing but couldn’t find enough penetration to really trouble keeper Sergio Romero .
The second half started similarly to the first, with Messi just a hair’s breadth away from touching Veron’s low cross into the net.
The tempo however, was decidedly slower in the second period and there were fewer chances. Messi should have done better in the 64th minute when he could only fire wide after four Argentine players broke against two defenders. And Enyema made yet another great save when he blocked a Higuain shot a minute later.
But Argentina was far from home free, and Taiwo rifled a shot past the post after getting in behind Demichelis once again. In the 81st minute Di Maria and Messi exchanged passes only for Enyema to thwart Messi from point blank range from Messi.
And a minute later Nigeria missed perhaps their best chance of the game when substitute Uche, alone on the penalty spot, blasted a Martins pass over the bar.
Nevertheless, although Argentina couldn’t turn their chances into goals, coach Diego Maradona will be relieved to have come through the opener with three points.
World Cup 101: