Gabriel Heinze scored on a diving header and Argentina hung on for a 1-0 victory over Nigeria on Saturday despite missing a fistful of scoring chances in the teams’ World Cup opener.
Heinze’s goal came in the sixth minute, when he took advantage of weak defense to power in a shot from 12 yards off Juan Sebastian Veron’s corner kick.
The Nigerians struggled for much of the match to contain Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who tormented them with his masterful moves.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain failed to convert three good chances, including what seemed a certain goal in the fourth minute. Messi also came agonizingly close several times.
Critics say he rarely plays well for his country, but Messi — FIFA’s World Player of the Year — posed an immediate threat to the Nigerians.
After seeing Higuain miss on his early chance, Messi tried a solo effort two minutes later, forcing a flying, one-handed save from goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Enyeama then leapt to thwart Messi after he cut in from the sideline and fired a curling strike.
“We’re not going to kill ourselves. We have two more games to play.” Enyeama said. “We thank God the score was a little encouraging.”
The Argentines almost paid for their squandered chances, as the Nigerians gained confidence in the second half.
Taye Taiwo came within inches of an equalizer with a low shot that flew just past Sergio Romero’s left post, and substitute Kalu Uche then scooped a weak shot over the crossbar from inside the box with eight minutes left.
“Of course, I’m very disappointed,” said Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback. “Unfortunately, there was a mistake from our side that created the corner kick. We were sleeping on one of the corners and that was enough. We were punished this time.”
Argentine coach Diego Maradona prowled the sideline throughout the match, with hands clasped behind his back. For the first time as Argentina coach, the former captain wore a suit — a stark contrast to the image of him hurling himself, tracksuited, into a puddle on the field when Argentina beat Peru last year.
Photo; Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze, front, heads the ball to score a goal past Nigeria’s Joseph Yobo, center, during the World Cup group B soccer match between Argentina and Nigeria at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, June 12, 2010.