Lionel Messi’s Argentina face their World Cup day of destiny on Tuesday, needing a win over Nigeria to have any chance of progressing to the last 16.
Argentina will look to join Spain, Portugal, Russia and Uruguay in the next round but must rely on the outcome of the other match in Group D.
Held to a draw by tiny Iceland – with Messi missing a penalty – and humbled by Croatia, Jorge Sampaoli’s men could already be packing their bags.
The math is simple: if Argentina beat Nigeria and Iceland fail to win against Group D leaders Croatia, they will go through to the last 16. If Iceland win, it will be time to get the calculators out.
Experts, players and fans alike have weighed in to what they expect from Argentina and its talisman:
“Messi is going through a difficult period with Argentina and this shows the importance of the group in football. He is someone who strengthens those around him, but when it’s not working he also starts to struggle. It’s quite surprising that against Nigeria, this struggling Argentina side could still qualify, but we’ll see what happens.” – Kaka, former Brazil international
“To Leo, I would like to talk to you and tell you that you are not guilty of anything, of absolutely nothing. I love you as always, I respect you as always.” – Argentina great Diego Maradona during a TV appearance on Telesur
“Lionel Messi needs to play like Diego Maradona and become Argentina’s World Cup leader.” – Former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus
“[Messi is] human and he has his own frustrations but he’s desperate to turn the situation around. He wants to show the world a different image to the one we’ve shown in the first two games.” – Javier Mascherano, Argentina teammate
“For the good of Argentina, I am sure Lionel Messi will be touching the ball a lot more than in our previous match.” – Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli
“I hope he plays his last game here in Saint Petersburg. We all like to see Leo Messi play but now we want to eliminate him.” – Nigeria defender Brian Idowu
“We love Messi, everyone loves him but it’s not for us to know whether or not this will be his last match. We’re not here to see how Messi plays. In football, there is no mercy, no compassion. We cannot give him a gift. Being professionals, we will try our best to make it more difficult for him.” – Nigeria’s German coach Gernot Rohr
“Before the game people said that I was going to win the Golden Ball for being the player of the tournament. But then Messi scored twice, both of them penalties, Argentina won 2-1 and I got the Silver Ball. Messi has kept on stealing awards from me.” – John Obi Mikel talks about the 2005 World Youth Championship in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He faces Lionel Messi again on Tuesday in the Nigeria vs Argentina showdown in Group D.