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Argentina’s Fernando Gago (top), and Nigeria’s Juwon Oshaniwa challenge for the ball during the Group F World Cup soccer match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil
Bosnia defeat sends Iran crashing at WC Argentina & Nigeria through

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, June 25, (AFP): A double from Lionel Messi a day after his 27th birthday inspired Argentina to a 3-2 win over African champions Nigeria and assured them of finishing top of Group F at the World Cup finals on Wednesday. Nigeria’s defeat — their fourth in four meetings at the finals against Argentina — came with the considerable consolation that they still progressed to the second round as Iran lost 3-1 to Bosnia-Hercegovina in the other group game. Argentina, who are set to face either Switzerland or Ecuador in the second round, began to turn on the style after low key wins over Bosnia-Hercegovina and Iran. Nigeria, who will be appearing in the second round for the first time since 1998, are likely to face France next Monday. The match got off to a stunning start as Messi fired home his third goal of the finals after two-and-a-half-minutes — the fastest goal of his career — to finally crack a Nigerian defence that had not conceded a goal in their previous two matches.

A telling pass by Fernando Gago found Angel di Maria only for the Real Madrid man’s shot to ricochet off the near post. As the loose ball bounced Messi magically appeared to slam into the roof of Vincent Enyeama’s net. Argentina’s lead lasted all of 80 seconds when CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa curled the ball artfully past Sergio Romero into the far post. Enyeama then did well to keep the scores level when keeping out di Maria’s thunderous low drive from 30m out. On 38 minutes Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella was forced into an unscripted change of personnel when Sergio Aguero limped off to be replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi. As the interval approached Messi struck a peach of a free kick from outside the box, only denied by another fine save from Enyeama.

But the Lille stopper couldn’t perform the same heroics when from a near identical position shortly after another Messi free kick thudded into the near corner for his fourth goal of the tournament. Musa levelled only two minutes into the second half when, getting the better of Argentine defenders Federico Fernandez and Marcos Rojo, he clipped the ball past Romero. In an at times breathtaking encounter Rojo bagged his first international goal three minutes later, knocking the ball home with his knee off a corner after Nigeria failed to clear Ezequiel Garay’s header. With his work done Sabella rested Messi on the hour, Ricardo Alvarez coming on in his place. Musa had ‘hat-trick’ flashing in front of his eyes in the final quarter of an hour when he cut inside Pablo Zabaleta only for the Manchester City defender to produce a superb tackel to deny him the scoring opportunity.

Meanwhile, In Salvador, Brazil, Edin Dzeko weighed in with a first-half goal as Bosnia-Hercegovina knocked Iran out of the World Cup with a 3-1 win in Salvador on Wednesday. Iran had needed to beat Bosnia and hope Nigeria lost to Argentina to keep alive faint hopes of reaching the last 16, but Carlos Queiroz’s side came up well short in the Group F clash. A powerful strike by Manchester City star Dzeko gave Bosnia an early lead before Miralem Pjanic added a second just before the hour to settle a relatively dull affair at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova. The game burst into life in the final minutes as Iran striker Reza Ghoochannejad netted his side’s first goal of Brazil 2014, but Bosnia replied immediately with an Avdija Vrsajevic goal.

The result confirmed both teams’ exit as Argentina and Nigeria reached the knock-out stages by finishing first and second respectively in the table after the Argentinians’ 3-2 win in Porto Alegre. Bosnia, whose elimination had already been confirmed prior to the game, are left to rue what might have been after refereeing mistakes contributed to their 1-0 defeat to Nigeria in their previous match. Safet Susic’s side ended on a high to claim third and leave Iran bottom of the group with a single point from their draw with Nigeria.

Salvador has now seen 21 World Cup goals in four group games after the Netherlands destroyed Spain 5-1, Germany thumped Portugal 4-0 and France dominated Switzerland 5-2 with a last 16 match and quarter-final still to come in the stadium. Dzeko had the best of the early chances when he fired over after a powerful run into the area, then headed straight at Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi. His much-threatened goal arrived on 23 minutes when Dzeko unleashed a fierce drive into the bottom right-hand corner past two defenders, which gave Haghighi no chance. Iran almost hit back immediately as midfielder Masoud Shojaei clattered the crossbar. But Bosnia grabbed the goal which killed off Iran’s hopes from a defensive error.

Last 16 Qualifiers

Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greece, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria,  Uruguay.

World Cup Results/Standings
Results
Argentina    3    Nigeria    2
Bosnia    3    Iran    1
Standings
Group A
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Brazil*    3    2    1    0    7    2    7
Mexico*    3    2    1    0    4    1    7
Croatia    3    1    0    2    6    6    3
Cameroon    3    0    0    3    1    9    0
Group B
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Netherlands*    3    3    0    0    10    3    9
Chile*    3    2    0    1    5    3    6
Spain    3    1    0    2    4    7    3
Australia    3    0    0    3    3    9    0
Group C
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Colombia*    3    3    0    0    9    2    9
Greece*    3    1    1    1    2    4    4
Ivory Coast    3    1    0    2    4    5    3
Japan    3    0    1    2    2    6    1
Group D
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Costa Rica*    3    2    1    0    4    1    7
Uruguay*    3    2    0    1    4    4    6
Italy    3    1    0    2    2    3    3
England    3    0    1    2    2    4    1
Group E
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
France    2    2    0    0    8    2    6
Ecuador    2    1    0    1    3    3    3
Switzerland    2    1    0    1    4    6    3
Honduras    2    0    0    2    1    5    0
Group F
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Argentina*    3    3    0    0    6    3    9
Nigeria*    3    1    1    1    3    3    4
Bosnia    3    1    0    2    4    4    3
Iran    3    0    1    2    1    4    1
Group G
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Germany    2    1    1    0    6    2    4
United States    2    1    1    0    4    3    4
Ghana    2    0    1    1    3    4    1
Portugal    2    0    1    1    2    6    1
Group H
    P    W    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Belgium*    2    2    0    0    3    1    6
Algeria    2    1    0    1    5    4    3
Russia    2    0    1    1    1    2    1
South Korea    2    0    1    1    3    5    1

Note 1: Standings read as played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against and points.
Note 2:
* – Denotes qualified for last 16. (RTRS)

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