The Super Eagles on Tuesday crashed out of the 2018 World Cup after a 2-1 loss to South American giants Argentina at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Two goals from Lionel Messi and Marcos Rojogave the Argentines the three points, which sealed qualification for the La Albiceleste after they finished second. Victor Moses got the consolatory goal from the spot for the Eagles.
Nigeria finished third with three points while Croatia topped Group D with nine points after defeating Iceland 2-1 in the other match in the group.
Eagles coach Gernot Rohr retained the starting line-up that defeated Iceland last Saturday. He started teenager Francis Uzoho in goal while William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogunand Kenneth Omeruo were in the defence. Brian Idowu, captain Mikel Obi, OghenekaroEtebo, Moses and Wilfred Ndidi were in the midfield. KelechiIheanacho and Ahmed Musa were in the attack.
Argentina started the better of the two sides as they settled against the Eagles. The Eagles went close to opening scoring in the third minute but Uzoho gathered Gonzalo Higuain’s tame effort.
In the fifth minute, Nigeria went on a counter attack and Iheanacho was left unmarked but the Leicester City striker could only shoot into the legs of the retracting defender. Musa also went close in the eighth minute but he shot over the bar.
The Argentines resumed their torment on the Eagles dominating the midfield and Messi put La Albiceleste in the lead in the 15th minute. Ever Banega’s long pass found the Barcelona star unmarked and he got past Omeruo before putting the ball beyond Uzoho.
The Eagles had an appeal for a penalty turned down in the 18th minute after Iheanacho was kicked in the head by an Argentine defender, who was trying to clear a corner kick. But Uzoho was called into action again in the 26th minute when he blocked Higuain’s attempt to lob the ball over him.
The Deportivo La Coruna keeper once again saved a free-kick from Messi in the 32nd minute. The teenager tipped the effort.
Rohr brought on Odion Ighalo for Iheanacho in the second half and the Eagles dominated play. Nigeria got their equaliser from the spot in the 48th minute. Javier Mascherano fouled Balogun while defending a corner and Moses converted.
Argentina poured out in search of a winner but Nigeria thwarted their efforts. The Eagles had another penalty appeal turned down by the referee despite consulting the VAR after Rojo handled the ball in the area.
Ighalo had several attempts to extend the Eagles lead but failed to take the chances. However, Rojo sealed the win for the South Americans in the 88th minute after a cross found him unmarked. The Manchester United defender sent his shot beyond Uzoho to seal qualification for the two-time champions.
The Eagles have thus crashed out in the group stages of the World Cup for a third time. They didn’t go beyond the group stages in 2002 and 2010.