PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil: Lionel Messi lit up the World Cup again on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) 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 savior 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 caliber players in Argentina that are very strong, but Messi is from Jupiter.”
Messi expressed satisfaction that Argentina appears 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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, international football officials met on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) to decide whether Uruguay striker Luis Suarez should be punished—possibly thrown out of the World Cup —for biting an opponent. A disciplinary panel gathered evidence against Suarez, who shocked football when he was shown sinking his teeth into Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said earlier the disciplinary committee wanted to reach a decision on Suarez’s case “as early as possible.” Uruguay are due to face Colombia in the last 16 on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).