'Genius' wants World Cup glory
Lionel Messi has scored in all of Argentina's group games and, while the South Americans clearly depend on their inspirational skipper, coach Alejandro Sabella is wary of pushing him too hard ahead of the knockout round.
The forward scored twice this morning (Singapore time) to help Argentina secure a 3-2 win over African champions Nigeria and clinch first place in Group F.
But Sabella replaced him with Ricardo Alvarez in the 63rd minute, saying after the match: "We needed Messi to rest."
The 27-year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, also scored the winner in the 2-1 defeat of Bosnia and the 1-0 victory over Iran as Argentina, one of the pre-tournament favourites, eased towards the last 16.
"We're doing okay," said Messi, when asked if he felt tired. "Now we have five or six days of rest and I'm doing fine."
After lifting the trophy in 1978 and again in 1986, Sabella said it was about time Argentina won another title. Messi the "Genius" could not agree more.
"I believe there is nothing more beautiful than being a world champion with the national team, seeing the joy of the whole country," he said.
Sabella was pleased with the way his Argentina side, who will face Group E runners-up Switzerland next Tuesday, played against Nigeria at the Beira Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre.
"In general, the team improved. We had good control over the ball and were able to damage the opponent," said Sabella.
The coach praised the attack, which he said was being refined. Weaknesses were discussed in private. But he conceded they had to tighten up defensively.
"As an offensive team, we sometimes have problems. But our defence is doing a good job and we will try to make it more robust," said Sabella.
STRUCK ON THE ARM
Nigeria's progress to the last 16 was marred by a freak injury to midfielder Michel Babatunde, who looks likely to miss the rest of the World Cup after he was struck on the arm by a powerful shot from teammate Ogenyi Onazi.
The incident occurred in the 66th minute, with medics bounding up the player's arm while he lay on the pitch before taking him away on a stretcher.
"I think he's got a broken hand and he's going for surgery right now as we speak," Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
"So I'm not sure if he's still going to participate in this World Cup. But we'll see how he goes. But it's not good." - Reuters.