LAGOS (Reuters) - Supporters of Nigeria’s soccer team described their heartbreak after watching the elimination of the national side from the World Cup on Tuesday following a late Argentina goal.
The game determined who progressed from Group D to the knockout stage and dictated whether or not Argentina forward Lionel Messi - considered by some soccer fans to be the world’s best player - would continue to play a role in Russia.
Nigeria were minutes from progressing before Argentina defender Marcos Rojo volleyed home a Gabriel Mercado cross in the 86th minute to give the South Americans a 2-1 win and passage into the last 16 where they face France.
“Heartbreak... we squandered two great chances that would have put us right above (on top in) the fixture,” said Kelechukwu Mgbeahuruike, who watched the game at an open air screening in the commercial capital, Lagos.
“Argentina had the zeal to still come back because they knew that yes they could still do it,” he said, referring to the period in which a Nigeria penalty converted by Victor Moses levelled the match at 1-1 after Messi had opened the scoring.
A draw would have been enough for the West African side to progress to the knockout stage of the tournament.
The team representing Africa’s most populous nation, making their sixth World Cup appearance, reached the last 16 when the tournament was held four years ago in Brazil.
There had been a widespread hope in Nigeria that the team could progress from Group D, which was widely considered to be one of the toughest in the tournament since it brought together Argentina, Croatia and Iceland alongside Nigeria.
Retail assistant Femi Ogundeji expressed anger at the decision not to award Nigeria penalty in the second half.
A video assistant referee (VAR) review decided that a possible handball by Rojo did not warrant a penalty.
“It is so clear, everyone can see that it was a clear handball and it is supposed to be a penalty,” said Ogundeji. “It is so painful. We could have drawn the match and we could have been in the round 16,” he added.
Nigeria were the only one of Africa’s five representatives from the last World Cup to return for the 2018 edition in Russia, which kicked off on June 14.
For some, the cause of Nigeria’s woes lay in divine intervention. “We cannot fight God. It is how God wants it,” said Kenneth Uzonwanne, an artist.
Additional reporting by Seun Sanni; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram