Messi magic as Argentina march on, France, Swiss advance
Lionel Messi lit up the World Cup again Wednesday to inspire Argentina as France and Switzerland both booked their places in the last 16.
Argentina captain Messi bagged his third consecutive man-of-the-match award after scoring twice as the South American giants beat Nigeria 3-2 to top Group F.
Nigeria advanced to the second round for the first time since 1998 despite the loss after Bosnia defeated Iran 3-1 in Salvador.
Argentina will now play Group E runners-up Switzerland in Sao Paulo next Tuesday while Nigeria meet France in Brasilia on Monday.
Despite a slow start to the tournament Argentina have gradually showed signs of rediscovering the attacking flair seen during their qualifying campaign.
Messi, desperate for World Cup glory to cement his place in the pantheon of football's greatest players, was again his team's saviour as he bagged his third and fourth goals of the tournament.
The goals -- including one exquisite curling free-kick -- followed his match-winning strikes against Bosnia and Iran in earlier group games.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi led the tributes to the diminutive Barcelona superstar after his side's defeat.
"Messi is one heck of a player, he's blessed," Keshi said
"There are other calibre players in Argentina that are very strong, but Messi is from Jupiter."
Messi expressed satisfaction that Argentina appear to be building a head of steam as the competition enters its decisive phase.
"We hope to continue like this, I think today you saw a better Argentina," he said.
"I'm happy at what we've done so far and to finish top of the group. A team like Nigeria play well, if you allow them space they can do you damage."
But while Argentina and Nigeria prepared to extend their stay in Brazil, Bosnia and Iran were ruing first round exits.
Goals from Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Avdija Vrsajaveic secured a consolation win for Bosnia, with Reza Ghoochannejad the scorer of Iran's only goal.
But while Bosnia coach Safet Susic was pleased to finish on a winning note, he was unhappy with his team's overall campaign.
"It's not a satisfactory end to our World Cup," said Susic. "We could have done more and should have made that extra step."
In the late games, France sealed first place in Group E to secure their Nigerian assignment with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Ecuador at Rio de Janeiro's famous Maracana Stadium.
France, virtually guaranteed to finish in first even with a defeat because of their superior goal difference, enjoyed the better of the chances throughout.
French coach Didier Deschamps was satisfied despite the stalemate.
"It would need a lot more than that to spoil our satisfacton and our joy," he said. "We came here to seal our qualification and finish first, and we did it."
Ecuador's failure to make any impression on France allowed Switzerland to grab the runners-up spot ahead of them.
Switzerland defeated Honduras 3-0 in Manaus with Bayern Munich youngster Xherdan Shaqiri grabbing a fine hat-trick for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side.
It was sweet revenge for Switzerland who missed out on a place in the last 16 in South Africa four years ago after being held to a draw by the Central Americans.
Thursday's final round of group games will see the completion of the first phase with Russia, Algeria and South Korea attempting to qualify from Group H behind Belgium.
Algeria play Russia while Belgium face South Korea.
In Group G meanwhile, Germany and the United States meet in Recife knowing that a draw would take both sides through.
Portugal and Ghana meet in the day's other hoping to capitalise on any slip-ups by the Germans or Americans.
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