Messi inspires Argentina's W.Cup winning start

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Lionel Messi said he was delighted to have played a major role in Argentina's 1-0 win over Nigeria in their World Cup Group B match at Ellis Park Stadium.

Although the Barcelona man did not score he was full of running and gave the Nigerian defence a torrid time even if he was unable to add to Gabriel Heinze's early header.

Argentina's coach Diego Maradona celebrates with Argentina's striker Lionel Messi (10) and Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano (14) during Group B first round 2010 World Cup football match on June 12, 2010 at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg.

Only outstanding saves by Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama denied him a goal of his own and Messi told reporters afterwards he was happy overall with matches against South Korea and Greece to come.

"It is important to get off to a winning start while playing good football," said Messi, who was unfazed at not opening his goal account.

"These things happen but the thing is we adhered to our coach's game plan," said Messi, as Diego Maradona's side poured forward in an attacking line-up where Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain provided further support.

Argentina missed a hatful of chances but thanks to Marseille defender Heinze they now have one foot in the last 16.

"I am very happy to have got the goal which cemented the win and allows us to go off and sleep tight tonight," beamed the former Manchester United man.

"I was in the right place at the right time," added Heinze. "I saw the cross come over and I launched myself right at it," said the 32-year-old.

Veteran midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron - another former Manchester United player - several times consulted with Maradona as the Argentines showed they should be able to live up to their billing as one of the favourites despite making a meal of their qualifying campaign.

"We were in constant communication," said the veteran, who clearly has Maradona's ear.

Real Madrid's Higuain admitted Argentina's finishing had been profligate but said "the main thing is we won, played well and have three points in the bag."

With a three-man strikeforce there was no room for Maradona's son-in-law Serguio Aguero but he insisted he felt he had felt emotionally involved even on the bench.

"I am happy. For me, to be in the Argentine squad, playing or on the bench, is just great."

Maradona, meanwhile, was happy with Messi's performance.

"I want him to be always on the ball. It really pleases me to see that," said the coach.

"Football would not be beautiful if you couldn't see Messi do crazy things."

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