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FIFA World Cup 2018: Lionel Messi’s got a new BFF in Ever Banega

Lionel Messi may have scored for Argentina against Nigeria but it came about through a pass made from deep by Ever Banega, who was brought into the starting eleven to play a creative midfield role in the FIFA World Cup 2018

football Updated: Jun 27, 2018 20:47 IST
Shijith P Kunhitty
Shijith P Kunhitty
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
FIFA World Cup 2018,Lionel Messi,Ever Banega
Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, is flanked by his teammate Ever Banega during the FIFA World Cup 2018 Group D match against Nigeria.(AP)

It was touch and go for a while but Argentina finally managed to beat Nigeria 2-1 and take its place in the FIFA World Cup 2018 knockout rounds.

Their star player Lionel Messi found his groove too with a wonderful solo goal in the 14th minute. Messi may have scored the goal but it came about through a pass made from deep by Ever Banega, who was brought into the starting eleven to play a creative midfield role.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: ‘Argentina must make Lionel Messi feel secure’

The pair constantly kept looking for each other throughout the match and struck up quite an understanding.

We look at how well they played with each other and the horror show that is Javier Mascherano in this data summary of Tuesday’s World Cup matches.

1) The Messi-Banega combo rules

Messi and Banega made 27 passes to each other in the match against Nigeria. No other player combined better with Messi yesterday, the next best being Enzo Perez who exchanged 20 passes with Argentina’s star player.

READ | Lionel Messi’s Argentina make way into FIFA World Cup 2018 knockout with thrilling win over Nigeria

With Banega freeing up Messi to play further forward and not have to come deep himself to build up play, Banega might just prove the key that unlocks Messi’s potential in this World Cup.

b) Mascherano is a liability

It was a disappointing performance from Argentina’s talsimanic player Javier Mascherano as he gave his best impression of a headless chicken on the pitch.

It was his foul in the box on the Nigerian player Leon Balogun that led to the Nigerian penalty and subsequent equaliser.

He was also very careless in possession losing the ball eight times to a Nigerian player in the Argentinan half of the pitch.

By comparison, he just lost the ball in his own half four times in Argentina’s first group match against Iceland and just two times in the match against Croatia.

Sure, there was a lot more riding on Tuesday’s match which might have led to such an error-ridden performance, but there’s a lot riding on every match from here on out.

The Nigerian players may not have been able to take advantage of Mascherano’s defensive mistakes but Argentina’s next opponent France is unlikely to let such sloppiness go unpunished.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 19:58 IST