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Messi, Rojo lead Argentina past Nigeria

Jul 10, 2014 - 1:21 AM Porto Alegre, Brazil ( - Lionel Messi continued his scoring tear by bagging a brace at the Estadio Beira-Rio on Wednesday, but it was Marcos Rojo's second-half strike that gave Argentina a 3-2 victory over Nigeria.

Messi opened the scoring in the third minute but saw his strike immediately canceled out by Ahmed Musa.

The Barcelona man put Argentina back in front just before halftime with an exquisite free kick, only to see Musa answer on the opposite side of the interval to bring Nigeria back on level terms.

But the winner was reserved for Rojo, who became just the second Argentine player to score a goal at the 2014 World Cup.

Messi now has amassed four goals in this year's tournament to climb level with Brazil's Neymar for the lead in the race for the Golden Boot.

The 27-year-old has been the star man for Argentina, which secured first place in Group F with Wednesday's win.

"We'd already qualified for the next round but it's good to have finished top of the group, that's what we were aiming for," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said after the match. "We improved, were more mobile, passed the ball better and were quicker. We were better at changing the tempo of the game too, improved our interplay and had a lot of chances. The further into the tournament we go, the more we're finding our rhythm. The structure of the side is getting much better."

Nigeria, meanwhile, advanced to the knockout round despite the loss as Iran was unable to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in Wednesday's other Group F fixture.

Wednesday's affair in Porto Alegre started with a bang as both sides found the back of the net inside the opening four minutes.

Argentina broke the deadlock in the third minute when Angel Di Maria unleashed a shot from the left side of the box that pinballed between the post and Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. The rebound fell to Messi, who slammed a first-time effort into the roof of the net.

But the Super Eagles responded immediately with Musa collecting a pass from Michel Babatunde one minute later, cutting inside from the left flank and curling home a superb effort that was just out of reach for goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Argentina continued its bright start in the ninth minute when Messi poked a through ball into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, but the Napoli striker could only manage to hit the side netting.

The match was level until the dying stages of the opening period when Messi was brought down at the edge of the penalty area by Kenneth Omeruo. He took the ensuing free kick and bent a brilliant shot over the wall to deceive Enyeama, who could only watch the ball nestle into the upper corner.

The second half began much like the first as the two nations notched a goal apiece inside the first five minutes.

Musa leveled the score with his second of the match, splitting the center of Argentina's defense to slip a shot past Romero in the 47th minute.

But La Albiceleste restored their lead shortly after as Rojo turned in a 50th- minute corner kick with an awkward finish off his knee.

Argentina and Nigeria traded blows for the remainder of the match, but as news broke about Bosnia's comfortable lead over Iran, the Super Eagles began to ease back with a spot in the knockout round essentially secured.

La Albiceleste will return to action on Tuesday against the runner-up from Group E while Nigeria will take on the winner of Group E, likely France, on Monday.

"It's an honor and we're very happy to reach the next round," said Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi. "I think we lost the game because we showed them too much respect in the first half. After the break we managed to play our game, attacked more, had more possession and were better overall. But Argentina are a great team and Messi's a great player. He's blessed and there's no way you can escape him. Messi's from Jupiter."