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Gabriel’s gift to God

world Updated: Jun 13, 2010 01:42 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Unlike Soccer City, Ellis Park wore blue and white with streaks of green and dabs of yellow. Argentina flags were strung all around the rectangular stadium with messages in Spanish, one of them thanking Dona and Tota for bringing Diego Maradona to this world.

Nigeria had decibels behind them but sartorially speaking, this could have been the La Bombonera where Boca Juniors rule. And the way Argentina dazzled, it did look like they were playing at home. But for Vincent Enyema's hands and feet, it could have been a romp. The Nigeria goalkeeper, adjudged Man of the Match, put everything down to divine intervention. “He (god) is the secret of me staying calm,” said the Hapoel Tel-Aviv shot stopper, who said this was his best show because it came against the “best player in the world now.”

And, boy, didn't he have a ball! At Friday's media conference in Pretoria, Maradona had said he was confident Lionel Messi would have a great World Cup. If this Saturday evening show is any indication, he surely will. Messi got involved early when skipper Javier Mascheranho found him, dinking and finding Carlos Tevez who lost control. Chinedu Obasi replied, going past Jonas Gutierrez before driving wide but for most of the match, it was Argentina all the way.

Messi advanced into the box making the most of Nigeria's wariness in tackling him and conceding a free-kick or worse and squared to Gonzalo Higuain who missed from close. Another left-footer from Messi saw Enyema bringing off the first of his numerous saves. Like a bouncing ball, Messi was up on his feet, and through right, left and centre, he threatened all the time.

Gabriel Heinze's powerful header, off a well-worked set-piece executed to perfection, put Argentina ahead. Juan Sebastian Veron put the corner-kick in the right place and the Manchester United defender headed into the top corner.

“We were given a lot of credit for how we handled dead balls in friendlies and here we were caught sleeping,” Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback said. Enyema's solitary battle against Argentina continued but because he won all the duels, Nigeria were always in the game despite threatening only occasionally. Sani Keta came close and Taye Taiwo fired a left-footer wide. Kalu Uche fluffed the last chance for an equaliser.

“We had seven opportunities today. We can't afford to miss so many. Everything happens at F1 speed in a World Cup and we must be careful. But I'm happy we won. The more we win, the hungrier players get. That's what happened in 1986,” said coach Maradona.