Argentina are through to the knockout stages of the World Cup, following their 2-1 win over Nigeria on Tuesday. One man, who had a telling impact against Nigeria was Ever Banega.
But it wasn’t plain sailing for La Albiceleste against Nigeria as only a late Marcos Rojo helped them to edge out the African nation and set up a Round of 16 clash with France.
Banega’s introduction saw Argentina look crisper in midfield and sleek in attack. He pulled the strings in midfield and linked up well with Lionel Messi, who finally announced himself at this World Cup with a brilliant opening goal.
The 29-year-old midfielder, who plays his club football at Sevilla, remained on the bench throughout Argentina’s abysmal 3-0 defeat to Croatia. But he was included in the starting XI for the first time on Tuesday and he made a powerful impact.
Starting alongside the ageing Javier Mascherano in midfield, Banega dictated the tempo of the game with his simple passing, which was lacking from the other midfielders in the previous games. Due to Banega’s presence, Argentina finally had a player, who was bold enough to play forward passes.
Ten minutes into the game, Banega floated a lofted pass over the Nigerian defence to Messi, who did well to control the ball and fire it past the goalkeeper with his weaker right foot to give Argentina the lead. The goal wouldn’t have happened without Messi’s genius, but it also wouldn’t have happened without Banega in midfield.
Just after the half-hour mark, Banega’s measured through-ball released Angel Di Maria but the winger was cynically fouled by Leon Balogun. From the resultant free-kick, Messi hit the post.
Against Nigeria, Banega recorded three key passes and no one made more passes than the Sevilla man – 79 with an accuracy rate of 89%. The 29-year-old was also accurate with his long passing whilst also keeping things simple in the middle of the park.
Banega was tidy after the break but his playmaking abilities were on the floor in the first-half when he enjoyed the most touches, played the most passes, created two chances and grabbed an assist.
While Nigeria’s penalty in the 51st minute made Argentina jittery the South Americans held their nerves and didn’t lose their shape. Rojo snatched the winner for Argentina in the 86th minute to ensure the team’s passage in the knockout rounds.
Messi finally came to the fore against Nigeria but it was Banega’s presence and control which helped Argentina to cross the group stage hurdle.
Arsenal are reportedly keeping tabs on Banega, with new manager Unai Emery having worked with the playmaker before at Valencia and Sevilla. And the Argentine’s sublime performance against Nigeria should be enough to wipe away all the qualms Arsenal fans have had in their minds regarding Banega.
Without much delay, the Gunners must make a move for Banega as he seems the perfect man to add some much-needed steel in Arsenal’s midfield next season, particularly with Jack Wilshere’s departure confirmed.
Statistics credit: BBC Match of the Day
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