Argentina captain Lionel Messi says his side would have been humiliated by critics had they been eliminated by Nigeria in the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
Reflecting on his side’s performance in the tournament, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner admitted that their poor preparation led to their below-par display in the global showpiece.
“When we lost and crashed out of the tournament, we knew our time was up because our preparation and focus towards the tournament was not too impressive,” Messi told Fox Sports Radio in Argentina.
“It would have been very humiliating if Nigeria had eliminated us at the group stage.
“The World Cup in Russia was a complicated period for us. But people knew we were not candidates to win. Today is different, I see a young and excited group ready for success.
“When we qualified against Nigeria in the World Cup everyone who was mocking us was silent, they wanted us to be humiliated. If we were knocked out in the groups they would have killed us all.”
The Super Eagles were heading through to the last 16 at Argentina’s expense with four minutes to go of the final Group D game, but Rojo’s sensational low volley saved Jorge Sampaoli’s men and set up a showdown with France in the next round.
Messi gave Argentina the lead in St Petersburg on Tuesday, the Barcelona superstar scoring a stunner to bring up the 100th goal of Russia 2018.
Messi’s opener was cancelled out by Victor Moses’ strike from the penalty spot before Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute effort secured a 2-1 victory over Gernot Rohr’s men.
Nigeria crashed out of the tournament losing 2-1 to Argentina who were also bundled out by eventual winners, France.
The Super Eagles will be looking to put behind them their disappointing early exit from the World Cup in Russia by challenging for glory in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, starting on June 21.
The three-time African champions have been drawn in Group B along with Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar.
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