Enzo Perez of Argentina vies for the ball with Leon Balogun of Nigeria during the International Friendly Match between Argentina and Nigeria at Krasnodar Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Krasnodar, Russia.

Leon Balogun relishing Messi challenge at World Cup

Enzo Perez of Argentina vies for the ball with Leon Balogun of Nigeria during the International Friendly Match between Argentina and Nigeria at Krasnodar Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Krasnodar, Russia.
Enzo Perez of Argentina vies for the ball with Leon Balogun of Nigeria during the International Friendly Match between Argentina and Nigeria at Krasnodar Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Krasnodar, Russia.Pic credit Epsilon/Getty Images Europe

The prospect of going up against Lionel Messi and Argentina at the World Cup in Russia will be major thrill for Nigeria’s Super Eagles, with defender Leon Balogun saying it could turn out to be one of his career highlights.

The Mainz defender will be one of the players charged with silencing the Argentine genius when their two nations clash in their third Group D game in Saint Petersburg on June 26.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Balogun told KweséESPN. “I’m really looking forward to it, he’s one of my favourite players.

“I love to watch him play, but when we play them I have to forget about that and the beauty of his game.”

Balogun also insists that Nigeria won’t just be keeping an eye on Messi during the game, but also on his jersey after the match when they players swap shirts.

“A lot of players will ask for his shirt,” Balogun continued. “I might have to bribe a few.

“We will have to find a solution. Maybe I can get a message to Messi that he mustn’t just bring one jersey but bring 11 so everybody is happy afterwards!”

Nigeria and Argentina are familiar foes and, remarkably, this is the fifth time in their sixth World Cup appearance that the Super Eagles have been pitted against the South American giants.

The two sides having also met in a friendly in Krasnodar in November, with Nigeria running out 4-2 winners after a fine second-half fightback.

“I was outside on the pitch and didn’t see the draw on TV live, I just checked my phone when I came back to the change room,” Balogun added. “The physio and players who had stayed inside said to me: ‘Do you want to know, do you want to know? Then my Argentine teammate Pablo de Blasis said to me ‘Hey Leon! We are playing in the same group again’.’

“‘I said ‘Oh no, come on, every time the same group, this is getting boring!’ But seriously I think it’s a nice challenge.

“It’s similar to the group we had during the qualifiers, one of the most exciting groups I think and very competitive, but the chances [to qualify to the second stage] are there.

“Argentina is a team that stand for themselves if you look at their players and their individual quality but they are beatable,” he concluded. “I’m very optimistic.”

  • Source ESPN
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