Messi Mania In Dhaka
A magical Lionel Messi relished his new role as the Argentina captain as he set up two fine goals to help beat Nigeria 3-1 in a friendly encounter in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka yesterday.
The Barcelona superstar, who has often failed to find top form for his country, set the pitch alight with his magnificent left foot, weaving through Nigeria's defence at will to deafening cheers at a three-quarter-full stadium.
In for a tussle: Lionel Messi (left) vies for the ball during a friendly
match against Nigeria at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka
It was new Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella's second victory in as many matches. His team beat Venezuela 1-0 in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Friday.
Sabella, who replaced Sergio Batista after Argentina's disappointing performance at the Copa America on home soil in July, said Messi was the difference on the night.
"He did not score but he assisted all three goals. He was the best player in the match. It does not matter whether he scores of not," he said.
The trickster set up the first goal with a deft chip that sent Gonzalo Higuain clear in the 25th minute.
Angel di Maria tapped home the second two minutes later after Messi again ran through the gaping Nigerian defence before his shot was parried by the goalkeeper, the ball falling invitingly for di Maria.
Nigeria were better in the second-half, reducing the margin through an Obasi Chinedu goal on 46 minutes, but the Africans lost their way after conceding an own-goal following a Higuain attempt on a move generated by Messi once more.
Sabella admitted that, although new to the job, the heat was already on him to deliver.
"I am very happy with the result," he said. "The Argentina fans are very demanding. I feel the pressure of the job so winning the first two games was therefore important for me."
A second-string Argentina lost away to Nigeria in June, but Sabella said revenge was not the motivation in Dhaka. "It was a very good victory. But I don't believe in revenge," he said.
Nigerian coach Samson Siasia admitted his men simply could not live with Messi.
"The game was difficult but Messi made the difference," said Siasia. "We tried to contain him but he was the best player of the game."