Two of the three goals Nigeria conceded against Argentina in the 2-3 loss at the last World Cup in Brazil were from set-pieces. One of the goals was a clinical free-kick by Lionel Messi in the added time of the first half at Porto Alegre. The winning goal was from a corner kick.
Similarly, one of the two conceded in Nigeria’s 4-2 win in the Krasnodar friendly match last November in Russia was from a free-kick, all pointing out the main strength of the Argentina national side and an obvious weakness in the Super Eagles.
But Ikechukwu Ezenwa, a possible first choice goalkeeper for Nigeria at the World Cup has assured Nigerian fans that free-kicks from Messi, the ‘human-machine’ skipper of the Argentina side will not beat him. According to a leading Nigerian daily newspaper, ThisDay, Ikechukwu Ezenwa who made his debut for the main stream Super Eagles’ side in the destiny-shaping home game against Argentina last September is determined to leave Messi frustrated in the June 26 World Cup clash at saint Petersburg.
“If I were to be between the sticks in the final group match against Argentina, I want to assure our teeming fans that I have the antinode to stop Messi in dead ball situations and to some extent other contending goal keepers can stop him as well,” Ezenwa remarked.
On record, Messi has a total of 39 direct free kick goals in his professional career, with 33 for his club FC Barcelona and 24 of them coming in La Liga. One for the six others for Argentina was the one he scored against Nigeria at Porto Alegre.
Messi has been in incredible form this season and has scored five free kicks with three coming from his last three games including his decisive lone goal win against Atletico last week Sunday.
“Forget about his intimidating record as a dead ball specialist, we all know that Messi is a great player but as for me, I can tell you categorically that I have been working on him with the help from the technical crew and the defence set up.
“I will make sure I stop him and don’t also forget that I’m yet to concede any goal via free kick and Messi, whom the whole world knows that he is a specialist in that area will never get me napping.
“If I am between the sticks and with God on my side, Messi’s magic will not work against me even during open play. Football speaks with one voice which is determination and it is a collective responsibility of us all of us to remain focus to banish the ghost of always losing to Argentina at every time.
“Forget about the 4-2 win at the last International friendly, the real opportunity to beat them will come up in Russia and with good coverage from my colleagues I don’t see myself picking the ball(s) in the net if I happen to. E between the sticks for Super Eagles,” Ezenwa boasted.
The goalkeeper also recalled his first time on a big match day against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the last World Cup qualifying series at the Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo where Super Eagles won 4-0 and drew 1-1 in Yaoundé and go clear of other contenders for the group ticket.
“I am a guy for a big match day and this was what happened in Uyo where I kept a clean slate while my colleagues scored four goals against the current African champions, Cameroon. It was a game I will never forget,” the goal keeper recalled.
On the opening group D match against Croatia, Ezenwa remarked that the tea will not play under any pressure because they are focused to upset any team at the Mundial.
“Football pundit will not give us any chance but we will remain focus knowing fully well that we carry the burden of over 180 million Nigerians, it’s a task we cannot afford to forfeit.
“We know they have great stars like Ivan Rakatic, Lucas Modric and many more. But you have to realize that football speak with one voice which is determination and with God on our side we are ready to hold our hold all through the 90 minutes.
Super Eagle will square up against Croatia and later face Iceland before playing Argentina in the last group match with the first two team going to the knock out phase.
Super Eagles reached the second round at the last edition in Brazil before they were eliminated but France with two late goals.