Apart from a wonderful run and rising shot from Jay-Jay Okocha, drawing an equally marvellous save from Pablo Cavallero just after the half-hour, the Super Eagles’ neat passing game was seldom matched by an incisive edge, with their young striker Julius Aghahowa enduring a torrid time and Nwankwo Kanu hopelessly lost in midfield.
Despite playing to a huge burden of expectations, Argentina, by contrast, were brimming with attacking invention for most of a neat, yet unspectacular, match.
The twisting header with which Gabriel Batistuta provided the decisive moment, directing one of Juan Sebastian Veron’s superb corners beyond Ike Shorunmu from a seemingly impossible angle, justified Marcelo Bielsa’s decision to select him as their lone striker, leaving Hernan Crespo on the bench.
Ariel Ortega offered width and penetration, wearing the No10 shirt that Argentina had tried to “retire” in honour of Diego Maradona. On the left Claudio Lopez and then Kily Gonzalez tormented Efe Sodje in a way that will give Danny Mills food for thought.
Veron’s ubiquitous display provided the vision and guile behind so many attacks, with Diego Simeone patrolling efficiently in front of the defence.
Argentina (3-4-2-1): Cavallero; Pochettino, Samuel, Placente; Zanetti, Simeone, Veron (Aimar, 78), Sorin; Ortega, C Lopez (Gonzalez); Batistuta (Crespo, 81). Booked : Simeone.
Nigeria (4-4-2): Shorunmu; Sodje (Christopher, 73), Okoronkwo, West, Babayaro; Okocha, Yobo, Kanu (Ikedia, 48), Lawal; Ogbeche, Aghahowa. Booked : Sodje.
Referee : G Veissière (France).
Attendance : 34,050.
Man of the match : Juan Sebastian Veron