Argentina coach Diego Maradona is taking a simple approach in getting striker Lionel Messi more involved within the team’s offence – make him the focal point.
Messi didn’t score in his team’s 1-0 victory over Nigeria on Saturday, but Barcelona’s star forward put on an impressive display of skill, showing why he could be the most dominant player of the tournament.
“We’ve talked about this and I want Messi close to the ball,” Maradona told ESPNsoccernet. “As long as he has fun close to the ball, then we will all be fine. If you take the ball away from him it would be like taking chocolate away from a kid.
“He produced magic on the field today.”
Argentina’s speedy attack was too much for its Group B counterpart in their World Cup opener. The Albicelestes created scoring chances at will, all the while making a star out of Nigerian goaltender Vincent Enyeama.
Enyeama denied the Argentine attack numerous times, including turning away two shots off the foot of Messi destined for the back of the goal.
Fortunately for Argentina, Messi’s inability to solve Enyeama proved irrelevant, after Gabriel Heinze’s header from a Juan Sebastian Veron corner at the sixth minute held up as the difference.
One of the highlights of the match came during a dazzling run by Messi in which he burst through three Nigerian defenders, before finding an open Gonzalo Higuain near the front of the goal. But the striker from Real Madrid saw his shot extend wide, and would be stopped several more times by Enyeama during the match.
Although the Nigerian goaltender turned away six legitimate scoring chances from heavily favored Argentina, Maradona was pleased with his team’s offensive tenacity and focus so early into the tournament.
“If our players keep winning the games they are going to feel the need, the hunger to win the game,” Maradona said.
While Argentina will happily take three points from the victory, Nigerian coach Lars Lagerback admitted his disappointment in his team’s inability to steal a win away from a tough opponent.
“I’m very disappointed by the result but I’m proud of my players and the team performance they put in,” Lagerback said. “Unfortunately there was a mistake from our side that created a corner kick, we were passive at the corner.
“We stood sleeping for one corner and that was enough, otherwise we had at least a draw. But we are not out of it yet.”
Both teams resume play Thursday, when Argentina meets South Korea in what could be the best match of the Group B stage, while Nigeria looks to rebound against Greece.