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Friday, June 11, 2010
Argentina-Nigeria game preview notes

Posted by ESPN Stats & Information

Argentina versus Nigeria -- Saturday, June 12
Ellis Park, Johannesburg


• Lionel Messi, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, makes his 2010 FIFA World Cup debut. He has not reproduced his brilliant Barcelona form with any consistency for Argentina, and will be under the microscope to perform on the biggest stage.

• Can Nigeria be the African team to make the biggest impact at Africa's first World Cup? For all the turmoil during and after the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, when the Super Eagles finished third, if the players can unite behind newly-appointed coach Lars Lagerback then they have the talent to advance from this group.

• This game marks the World Cup debut of Ellis Park Stadium. The 1995 Rugby World Cup final won by South Africa 15-12 over New Zealand, (and the subject of the movie Invictus), was played in Ellis Park.

Series history

• Argentine and Nigeria have played three 3 previous times on the senior international level, with Argentina leading the series 2-0-1. The two World Cup meetings  in the 1994 and 2002 group stages  were both won by Argentina.

What to look for

• The teams have also twice played for the gold medal in soccer at the Olympics (which is considered an Under-23 competition by FIFA). Nigeria shockingly won gold in 1996 while Argentina took the top prize in 2008.

• Will coach Diego Maradona switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 formation to play in a style more suited to Messi's game? Maradona doesn't seem inclined to switch formations but has said he will give Messi freedom to roam.

• Nigeria have never beaten a non-European side at the World Cup. Can the Super Eagles reverse that trend and cope with the loss of influential midfielder John Obi Mikel, ruled out due to a knee injury.

From the research room

• Argentina have lost only one of their nine group stage matches at the last three World Cups. In these nine games, Argentina have posted six shutouts.

• Nigeria have won more FIFA titles than any other African nation with three Under-17 trophies (1985, 1993 and 2007) and Olympic Gold in 1996.

• Nigeria has been in the same group with Argentina in three of its four World Cup appearances (1994, 2002 and 2010).