Monday 10 September 2018, 19:28

Messi finds the perfect control, touch and finish

  • Argentina’s No10 scored a wonder goal to put them on the road to victory against Nigeria

  • Albiceleste were under huge pressure to win

  • Vote now for your favourite contender for the 2018 FIFA Puskás Award"

Make no mistake, Lionel Messi and Argentina were staring into the abyss when they walked out to face Nigeria in their final Group D match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, in Saint Petersburg on 26 June.

In order to avoid their first group-phase exit since Korea/Japan 2002 and only their fourth in the 88-year history of the world finals, Argentina simply had to win and hope the result of the other match in the group went their way. No Albiceleste player was under more pressure than their No10. Having missed a penalty in their group opener against Iceland and been a shadow of himself against Croatia, he had now gone six World Cup matches without scoring a goal.

There were 14 minutes on the clock when Ever Banega picked up possession near the halfway line, with Nigeria centre-half Kenneth Omeruo blissfully unaware of what he was about to face. Spotting Messi in space and Banega lining up a pass to him, Omeruo rushed forward a couple of paces in a bid to snuff out the danger. In the process, he gave his two opponents all they space they needed.

How the goal happened in images

In the blink of an eye, Messi surged into the gap behind Omeruo, while Banega spotted the opening and sent the ball flying over the head of the bewildered central defender. With his side standing on the brink of elimination, Messi then did what only legends can do.

Running at full speed, Messi skipped into the air and cushioned Banega’s precision 35-metre pass on his left thigh. Another touch with the top of his left foot before allowed the ball to hit the ground and spring off the turf in front of him. Messi then powered away from Omeruo, now back-tracking in vain, and took six strides before letting fly with a fizzing cross-shot.

Despite standing at 6’5 (196 cm), Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho could do nothing to stop the ball from hitting the back of the net, as the diminutive Messi wheeled away and made for the corner flag, where he sank to his knees in a cathartic blend of relief and triumph. Though Marcos Rojo scored a late winner for Argentina following Nigeria’s equaliser, it was Messi’s wonder goal that paved the way to their place in the last 16. Will it also be good enough to earn him his first ever FIFA Puskás Award?

What they said

“It was a huge weight off our shoulders because we’ve had a tough few days, what with our previous results and all the things that came out [in the press].” Lionel Messi.

“Welcome to Russia 2018, Lionel Messi.” Gary Lineker, former England international

“It’s a fantastic goal because of Banega’s pass and the two touches Leo takes, first with the thigh and then with the top of the boot. It’s a piece of perfection.” Mario Kempes, FIFA World Cup winner at Argentina 1978

“The run and two touches before the exquisite finish was what the World Cup needs to be blessed with.” Rio Ferdinand, former England international