The emotional Argentine in the stands got his wish. With his national flag draped over the glass panelling inside Volgograd Arena, his hastily-scribbled message was clear: “Nigeria please win for Messi”.
The South Americans’ abysmal performance in the 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday had left one of the greatest players in history teetering on the edge of a World Cup group stage exit.
Victory for Iceland against the five-time African champions here in Russia would have taken destiny out of his hands.
Fortunately then for the underperforming Argentines, Nigeria showed sufficient verve and energy to run out 2-0 winners, end a streak of three successive World Cup games without victory, and keep both Argentina and their own plans of progressing to the knockout stages alive.
Ahmed Musa had spent the past five months on loan at CSKA Moscow, but did not look at home initially.
Like the rest of his Super Eagles team, however, he grew into the game, eventually finishing as man of the match. The 25-year-old proved too quick and too determined for an Icelandic defence wilting in the 34-degree temperatures of Volgograd.
Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrímsson has said before the match the climate may be a factor and it proved prophetic as Musa twice showed more energy and desire than his opponents to bag two wonderful second-half goals.
“It was maybe the temperature,” Hallgrímsson said. “Nigeria played well, it was difficult to fight today. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I admit we have played better than we did today.”
Iceland had started the better side, but failed to create too many openings and when they did carve open a chance — mostly through the creativity of Gylfi Sigurdsson and tireless running of Jon Bodvarsson — Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho proved impenetrable.
Gernot Rohr, Nigeria’s veteran German coach, stressed to his team at half-time that it was now or never, and through the speedy attacking triumvirate of Musa, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho, he got the improved performance required.
An Iceland throw inside the Nigeria penalty area four minutes into the second period was headed clear and worked wide to Moses.
The Chelsea wide-man sprinted down the right flank before picking out Musa, who controlled the ball at pace beautifully with the outside of his right foot before smashing it on the bounce past Hannes Halldorsson. In doing so he became the first Nigerian to score at two World Cups.
“I need to thank my coach, because without his belief, he wouldn’t put me on the pitch,” said Musa, who played only 28 minutes of their 2-0 defeat to Croatia.
“We don’t think too much about this game now because we know we must focus on the next game. That’s what is important now.”
Nigeria will meet Messi and Argentina on Tuesday, marking the second successive World Cup where they have faced off.
In 2014, Argentina came out on top in a pulsating 3-2 victory. Musa, however, is confident and looking forward to clashing with the ALbicelese — and particularly Messi — once more.
“For me, scoring against Argentina is not that difficult,” he said. “Whenever I play and Messi plays, I score. In 2014, I scored two goals and with Leicester against Barcelona [in a 2016 pre-season friendly], I scored two again, so maybe I will score two more against Argentina next week.”