Nigeria will take delight in ending potentially Lionel Messi’s last World Cup for Argentina despite their love and admiration for the five-time world player of the year, promised Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr.
Victory for the Africans in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday will send Argentina home in disgrace after failing to win a game in Russia and send Nigeria into the last 16.
“We love this great player, Messi, everybody loves him,” said Rohr on Monday. “The question is not if it is the last World Cup for him or not, the question is for us to be qualified.
“We are not here to watch him playing. We are here to make a result, we are professionals.
“We are here to defend the colours of Nigeria and we know in football there is no mercy, no pity, everybody wants to win and we cannot make any gifts even if we like very much this player.”
Messi carried Argentina through a troubled qualifying campaign but has so far failed to fire in Russia, missing a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Iceland before Croatia thrashed the two-time world champions 3-0.
Nigerian defender Brian Idowu admitted he would love Messi’s shirt as a momento, but also insisted he wants to send Argentina packing.
“Our main goal is that it will be Messi’s last World Cup game, as much as footballers we love watching him play,” said Idowu, who was born in Saint Petersburg and still plays his club football in Russia for Amkar Perm.
“I would love of course to swap jerseys with him but I would love to swap jerseys with many players in the Argentinean side.
“They have many very good players and I watch them all play on TV, so it is not just Messi.”
Nigeria moved into second place in Group D behind already qualified Croatia by beating Iceland 2-0 thanks to an Ahmed Musa double.
However, that victory came at a cost as captain John Obi Mikel suffered a fracture in his left hand that means he will be forced to wear a cast if he is to face Argentina.
“The captain has a fracture of the third metacarpal of the left hand. It’s not so big fracture, it’s a little one, but he has to play with a cast,” added Rohr.
“We have to ask to the referee to accept, but it is hard plastic so I think it is ok. (He has) not so many pains and he will be ready I think.”