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September 26, 2017

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Messi double ensures Argentina top group

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- A double from Lionel Messi a day after his 27th birthday inspired Argentina to a 3-2 win over African champions Nigeria and assured them of finishing top of Group F at the World Cup finals on Wednesday.

Nigeria's defeat — their fourth in four meetings at the finals against Argentina — came with the considerable consolation that they still progressed to the second round as Iran lost 3-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the other group game.

Argentina, who are set to face either Switzerland or Ecuador in the second round, began to turn on the style after low key wins over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran.

Nigeria, who will be appearing in the second round for the first time since 1998, are likely to face France next Monday.

"I feel honored, and happy it's going our way, I want to thank the players and the fans and some of the media," commented Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi.

On Messi's impact he added: "Messi is one heck of a player, he's blessed, but with due respect to Messi there are other caliber players in Argentina that are very strong, but Messi is from Jupiter."

Keshi reported that Ukraine-based forward Michael Babatunde's World Cup was probably over after suffering a broken wrist in the second half.

His Argentina counterpart Alejandro Sabella for his part observed: "As we advance we start improving our structure, in general I saw improvement today.

"We've got nine points, but we can always get better."

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