Preamble In 1992, before the European Championships, Graham Taylor infamously advised England fans to "put your feet up, get a few beers in and let me do the worrying". Diego Maradona has not offered similar advice ahead of Argentina's World Cup campaign, but if he had he might have prescribed a diazepam drip, a heart monitor, a padded room and umpteen crates of Nerve Number.
For richer or poorer, Argentina should be the white-knuckle ride of the World Cup, a team who were marvellously unpredictable even before they put the lunatic in charge of the asylum. They have the attackers to win it at a canter; they have the defenders to go out in the first round. It should be fantastic fun.
And then there's the manager. Sixteen years ago, on a Saturday in June, Diego Maradona walked off the field in Foxborough after a 2-1 victory over today's opponents to take the drug test that apparently finished his tumultuous relationship with the World Cup. Now he's back, older and not remotely wiser, with the same simple intention he had as a player: to vaccinate the rest of the world.
He may look like a shambles, with his two-tone beard and his £1000 toilet, but he's a dangerous man to back against. Other men have won the World Cup as a player and a manager. But if Argentina win this, it'll be one of the great stories.
Team news Diego Maradona has, as expected, picked an extremely attacking side. Whether it will be a 3-4-3, a 4-4-2 isn't clear xor an unbalanced 4-3-3 with Gutierrez pushing on isn't clear (Sean Ingle, in the stadium, says all the Argentinian journalists think it will be the latter); but with Di Maria, Messi, Higuain and Tevez in the side, he has put a helluva lot of beef on the grill. Interestingly, only two of the XI were in the superb side that started the last World Cup: Mascherano and the laughable Heinze.
Nigeria's team includes four Premier League players: Shittu, Yobo, Etuhu and Yakubu. There's no place for the exciting Peter Odemwingie, though, in a system that ostensibly apes that of Barcelona but which will probably transmogrify into 4-5-1 whenever Argentina have the ball.
Argentina (4-3-3) Romero; Gutierrez, Demichelis, Samuel, Heinze; Mascherano, Veron, Di Maria; Tevez, Messi, Higuain.
Nigeria (4-4-2) Enyeama; Odiah, Shittu, Yobo, Taiwo; Haruna, Etuhu, Haruna, Kaita, Ogbuke Obasi; Yakubu, Obinna.
Referee Wolfgang Stark (Germany)
Juan Veron eh? One of the most exasperating players of all time, it's 12 years since he roamed regally around France during the 1998 World Cup. He has never quite lived up to that promise, mainly because of an apparent lack of moral courage, but my God, what a talent. Anyone who disputes his ability should look at the goal after 2.24 of this video.
Transmogrification I've just realised I used the word 'transmogrify' earlier. Sorry. Basically I was just trying to show I'm smarter than you (I'm not). Words like transmogrify should be removed from the dictionary for being so ridiculously pretentious. What other words should go? The basic rule is: if you use a word to a refreshed gentlemen in Wetherspoons, and he responds by punching you in the phizog because the word is so absurd, and you think 'yeah, I'd have punched me too', then that word has to go.
I love Lila Proof And here's why.
The players are coming out of the tunnel I haven't been this excited about a World Cup game for years. Four, obviously. Before we kick off, why not read Alex Netherton's love letter to Diego Maradona on James Brown's excellent new site? (Warning: contains the language of the adults
1 min Argentina kick off from left to right, although the TV director managed to miss it, instead preferring a loving, lingering shot of Nigeria manager Lars Lagerback. Argentina are in their usual blue-and-white stripes. Nigeria are in green.
2 min Tevez is playing on the right of Argentina's front three, with Higuain left and Messi central. It is a lopsided 4-3-3.
3 min Nigeria have the first chance. A long cross comes to Obasi on the left of the box. He skins Gutierrez with ludicrous ease and then spanks it high across goal and wide of the far post. Heinze, Demichelis, Gutierrez: this is not the most secure of defences.
4 min Higuain misses a sitter. Messi goes on a delightfully penetrative run down the inside-left channel, beating two or three men just through pace and close control before passing a low cross towards Higuain. He was only six yards out, but he managed to sidefoot it wide of the near post. That's a shocking miss.
5 min "I like the fact the Maradona seems to have just picked as many attacking players as possible," says Dan Sharpe. "My theory as to formations is that he really doesn't care. He'll just let them sort it out like when you were a kid and you played at lunchtime with eight up top and two in defence."
6 min Messi forces a fine save from Enyeama. Odiah gave the ball away to Tevez, who slipped it infield to Messi. He was in the D and tried to clip it into the far corner, but Enyeama leapt to his left to palm it away for a corner. Messi has started sensationally.
GOAL! Argentina 1-0 Nigeria (Heinze 6) The beef has gone on the grill! After that Messi chance, the resulting corner was swung out by Veron and Heinze, criminally unmarked on the penalty spot, placed a fabulous diving header into the top-left corner. That was superb because there was a man on the line but it was so accurately placed that he couldn't get there. Maradona tries to affect cool when the goal goes in and, after a couple of seconds, thinks, 'sod that' and starts going mental. Come on Argentina!
8 min "Maradona looks like a lottery winner forced to wear a suit for the cheque presentation," says Georgina Turner. "I really want him to be a mad genius, mind you."
10 min Argentina have started as we expected: excellent going forward, endearingly useless at the back. Nigeria win a cheap corner on the right but it comes to nothing.
11 min "'Preposterous' has to go," says Eamonn Maloney. "Despite being fun to say, has the curious effect of being personified by its utterer."
12 min Messi is dropping in the hole all the time to good effect. In many ways it's a diamond system, with Mascherano and Messi the bottom and top.
14 min Obasi spanks a half-volley wide from 12 yards after a decent lay-off from Yakubu. It was only half a chance, if that, but Argentina don't look great at the back.
15 min Veron's gorgeous 50-yard pass is just a fraction too long for Messi, who had run behind the defence. Enyeama came out and just got there first.
16 min "Talking of preposterous words, how about this from an Oxford Professor to Lawrence of Arabia after the latter was in London for the weekend?" says Marius Stravinsky. "'Was it somewhat caliginous in the Metropolis?' Lawrence: 'Somewhat caliginous, but not altogether inspissated.'"
18 min More fine play from Messi, who zips infield from the right and then, from 25 yards, attempts to place a low curler in the far corner. Enyeama dives to his right to push it away. Messi has been brilliant.
20 min That should have been 2-0. Argentina sliced Nigeria apart beautifully, with Tevez eventually slipping an angled pass to the right to put Higuain through on goal inside the box. He took a touch and tried to slip it over Enyeama, who dived to make another very good save.
21 min "'Facilitate'," says Phil Sawyer. "A simple 'help' would do.
23 min Yet another great chance for Argentina. Messi's outswinging corner from the left found Samuel, who had escaped Kaita, but from eight yards he headed it down into the ground and over the bar. He should have scored.
25 min "Were you to accuse the gentleman of being gambrinous, you'd be risking a slap in most establishments," says Gavin Harrow. "Shame as I quite like the word - but not enough to risk pain by using it ..."
25 min A long throw from the left is headed clear to the edge of the box, where Kaita screws a volley hopelessly wide.
27 min "Here in America 'transmogrification' isn't a pretentious word at all," says Eric Calhoun. "Most of us learned it via the classic comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" where the hyperactive young hero would occasionally break out a transmogrifier (i.e., cardboard box with the word scrawled on it) and become a dinosaur, tiger, etc. Actually, like a lot big words, most of us assumed it was made up."
28 min Some more shocking defending from Gutierrez gives Obasi a good chance. He was in the inside-left channel, 10 yards from goal after Gutierrez failed to reach Etuhu's flick, but he dragged a tame shot across goal and wide. Argentina are hopeless at the back! It's like Keegan's Newcastle in excelsis.
29 min "'Yummy' has to go," says Wade. "Unless you're speaking to a child there is no place for it. And should an adult use the word in conversation, we could do worse than to pass a law requiring a quick slap to the face followed by saying, simply, 'oopsie'."
Can we get rid of the word 'ickle' as well? It's not 1995, you're not in episode of Friends.
30 min "'Argentina' is a long word, when the simple 'bottlers' will suffice," miaows Gary Naylor.
31 min Argentina haven't actually been very fluent, despite all those chances. Most have come from set pieces or the genius of Messi. Veron and Tevez have been peripheral, I've just remembered Di Maria is on the pitch, and Higuain has missed two sitters. What a fantastically motley crew they are.
32 min Veron plays an extravagant clipped pass. Straight into touch. I've missed him.
33 min "Words: liaise," says Mark Harrison. "Never used unless you're doing something really, really boring." We do a lot of a liaising at the Guardian. A lot.
34 min "Sorry Rob, but 'phizog'," says Dan Littler. "Much like 'oof!' or 'ooyah!' no-one would ever actually say it."
36 min The game is meandering a bit, so Maradona picks a fight with a Fifa official, waving his hands around demonstratively. I've no idea why. He is majestic.
37 min Enyeama denies Messi with his best save yet. Messi had a free-kick on the right wing and played a smart, 30-yard one-two with Di Maria. He received the return just inside the box, on the right, and curved a gorgeous effort towards the far top corner. Enyeama leapt to his right and, with his wrong left hand, fingertipped it round the post. That was a lovely save. They've been the best two players on the pitch so far.
38 min "I've always wanted to answer the phone with the word 'articulate...'," says Tom Bason. "Unfortunately my ego isn't yet large enough for me to have the confidence (arrogance?) to do so, so I make do with a simple 'hello'." Arf, that's a great idea. Who is the move character answers the phone with 'Speak'? That drug dealer in 'Go'?
40 min For the first time in an occasionally proud 15-yard career, Juan Sebastian Veron wins a 50/50 challenge.
41 min "Why oh why do we use the word 'utilise'? It even has the word 'use' in it! Seamus Whitehead, suffering through the rubbish French commentary of this match," says Seamus Whitehead.
42 min Gutierrez, who has had a poor half and will be torn umpteen new ones if Argentina go all the way in this tournament, is rightly booked for a dismal reducer on Obasi. Maradona looks disgusted by the decision. Given what Claudio Gentile did to him in 1982, when he got only one yellow card despite 23 fouls on Maradona, I suppose you can understand why.
43 min "In a recent film class, someone used the word circumlocuitous to describe a particularly rambling moment, which seemed a bit disingenuous to those of us just auditing the course in case any latent talent someday manifest itself," says Jim.
44 min After another bewitching run, Messi is taken down 20 yards out, just in from the left corner of the box. Veron strides up elegantly... and curls it high over the bar. I've missed him.
45 min "Is Mascherano a terrible fantasy team pick?" asks Emma John. "He seems to play so deep he'll never get near the goal." I'm not saying he's the worst player you could have picked but... actually I am. He scores around one goal every decade.
Half time: Argentina 1-0 Nigeria An odd half. Argentina should be 3-0 up yet, Messi aside, they haven't been especially impressive. Nigeria aren't out of this, because Argentina are so dodgy at the back, but their attack looks pretty pedestrian. It might time to inject some energy and bring on, er, Kanu.
A note on the Heinze goal Walter Samuel was grappling with a defender, in the style he usually reserves for when he's defending corners, and technically it was a foul. But it doesn't feel like a big incident. I'm not sure whether that's because of a resignation that this kind of infringement will never be penalised, or because I want Argentina to win and am thus subconsciously ignoring anything remotely against this.
Another happy customer "I'm covering the game on the Guardian Fans Network for Nigeria," says Kwame Cinquez. "The Super Eagles are devoid of ideas, i cannot think of a reason why we we are playing this formation, it does not compliment the side. Sani Kaita is hopeless, we must bring on Odemwingie and Martins. This is just not acceptable."
46 min Nigeria kick off from left to right.
47 min "Can we PLEASE eliminate the word 'poop'?" says Paul. "It is the only word that sends a shudder down my spine, and halves the IQ of those who utter it . It's mostly American but I've seen it used over here. It's poo, or crap, or so on. But not poop, for the love of God!"
48 min A bitty start to the half. I'm not convinced by Argentina. The balance isn't right. After all the tentative hope, I feel like I've turned up for a blind date only to meet my doppelganger. "Others might question your floccinaucinihilipilification of the Argentinian defence," says Tim Sargent, "but I think you are right on the money." And that's Blockbusters.
49 min Veron, on the right, drives a lovely cross towards the six-yard box and Messi, arriving in front of the near post, flicks it between the legs of a defender and not far wide of the far post.
50 min "Gaby Logan has just said that later on we'll hear 'Frank Lampard's final words,'" says Phil Sawyer. "Has some sort of ritual sacrifice been organised before the game? Or is it a step up in discipline from Capello now the tournament's started?"
51 min Argentina are pressing again and win a corner on the right. Veron flounces around for a bit and then deigns to take it. It's another outswinger and, after more poor defending, Samuel's snapheader flies over from eight yards.
52 min Nigeria replaces the disappointing Obinna with Obafemi Martins.
53 min "In the Kinky Friedman novels the man himself answers the phone with a curt 'start talking'," says John Leavey. "Surely the way to go."
55 min Argentina are playing keep ball, and Nigeria can't too much about. They look pretty impotent.
56 min "In Spanish everyone answers the phone by saying 'Speak' (well, 'Diga') - though, disappointingly given the occasion, I think Argentinian dialect just says 'Hola'....." says Catherine Baker. I am sold on answering the phone with 'articulate', although obviously I'm far too much of a coward to actually to do so.
57 min This is almost boring, so effortless is Argentina's superiority. Do something Nigeria please! Thanks.
58 min "'Rambunctious', along with any other word of which one has only the vaguest grasp of the meaning," says Eamonn Maloney. "Also, words that sound like the opposite to what they are - I once described a girl's eyes as 'superfluous' rather than 'superlative' (not the best pick-up line in any event). I think she thought I wanted to blind her."
59 min Messi picks up the ball just past the halfway line and goes on a 40-yard slalom, aided by an off-the-ball foul by Tevez. Eventually his shot from the left of the box is blocked at the expense of a corner. Before it is taken, Peter Odemwingie replaces Obasi.
61 min Kaita has time to line up a shot from 25 yards, and crunches it miles over the bar. They still haven't had a shot on target.
62 min Odemwingie's dangerous cross is punched clear by Romero. Here's Matthew Parker. "A TV critic at the Sunday Times, his voice dripping with upper class disgust, had the answer phone message: 'Keep it brief'.
63 min "Why did Nigeria not start with this team?" says Kwame Cinquez. "Swap Kaita for Kanu and we might be onto something."
64 min Veron has been more influential in the second half, although he isn't straining himself, instead just keeping the game ticking over with 10- and 20-yard passes.
65 min Yakubu wins a corner for Nigeria, who are still committing hardly any players into attack in open play. The corner comes to nothing and Argentina break four on two. Tevez is a bit indecisive but eventually finds Messi on the edge of the box. He comes inside and then curves a low effort just wide of the left-hand post.
66 min A good chance for Higuain. Messi found him on the right side of the box, and he took a touch before sweeping it low across goal. Enyeama plunged to his right to make a good save. Nigeria break quickly and then Odenwingie, up against the last defender, hopelessly overruns the ball and then, for no particular reason, gives Yakubu a comedy rollocking.
67 min "Surely there is no better way to answer a phone than (noted wit) Dorothy Parker's," says William Akers. "Surly lass that she was, she invariably took a call with the question, 'What fresh hell is this?'" That's no way to treat the pizza delivery guy when he's come all that way in the rain.
68 min "I knew a girl once," says Jeremy Theobald.
Oh hang on, there's more. "She answered the phone with an affected but remarkably cool, 'Uh-huh?'."
69 min Messi clips a corner from the left towards Veron on the edge of the box, but he spanks it over on the half-volley.
71 min That was very nearly an equaliser for Nigeria. Odemwingie teased Gutierrez on the left and then pulled it to the left-back Taiwo on the left corner of the box. With defenders converging he simply toebunged it across goal as hard as possible, the old playground tactic. It whistled through defenders and went just wide of the far post. He gave himself cramp in the process and is now getting treatment.
72 min "I have a Hungarian friend who answers the phone by saying 'I am Zoltan,'" says James Errington. That's not a greeting, it's a movie concept.
73 min "This is the worst Nigeria team i can remember," tubthumps Kwame Cinquez. "No Okocha, no Kanu, Ikpeba, Oliseh etc etc..yet they are still in the game. Argentina should be concerned."
74 min Maradona incurs the wrath of the BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce by waving an imaginary yellow card. He is magnificent. Moments later, Juan Veron is replaced by Maxi Rodriguez. He played pretty well without really exerting himself.
75 min "If I had the courage," says Phil Sawyer, announcing the title of his autobiography, "I'd answer the phone with a simple 'Why?'."
76 min Taiwo has done one with cramp, to be replaced by Kalu Uche.
77 min Haruna is booked for a reducer on Messi. No argument there.
78 min "Maybe everyone should answer the next phone call they receive with the word 'transmogrification'?" says Steve Gibbs. Yep, but it would have to be as a question rather than a statement, then, throughout the conversation, you'd have refer to yourself in the third person as 'The Transmogrifier'.
79 min A 30-yard swipe from Martins is beaten away by Romero. It was straight at him but wobbling a bit, so it was probably sensible to punch rather than catch. Moments later, Higuain is replaced by Diego Milito.
80 min "On the evidence of tonight's games, S Korea could give Argentina a really hard game," says Daniel Allamand. "They are experienced, organised, very mobile, quick on the counter and not at all goal shy. I reckon they are worthy of a good value flutter."
Agreed. Messi excepted, I've been pretty disappointed with Argentina, although that may be because I was hoping they'd be a vigilante version of Brazil 1970. Who were rubbish, by the way.
81 min Enyeama denies Messi yet again. Messi, coming infield from the left, played a gorgeous short-range one-two with Di Maria, ran into the box and then spanked it towards goal from eight yards. Enyeama made himself big and blocked it with his legs, or maybe his netherlands.
82 min Uche misses a great chance! Yakubu got free on the right and, with all the Argentina players running towards their own goal, clipped it smartly back towards the penalty spot. It bounced up a little awkwardly, and Uche sidefooted it high over the bar with his left foot. He really should have hit the target, and might even had had time for a touch.
83 min The game is stretched to a daft degree now. It's pub football.
84 min "There are so many cooks in this Argentina side!" says Scott W. "WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE BROTH?!"
85 min Nicolas Burdisso comes on for Angel Di Maria. Burdisso goes to right back, with Gutierrez moving to left midfield.
86 min This game is far too open for Argentina's liking. Brazil would have bolted the door 20 minutes ago. Yakubu sweeps an effort over from 25 yards. For a moment it looked like Romero was in trouble, but it didn't dip enough.
88 min This is far from a comfortable finish for Argentina. In fact they've shot their bolt, but Nigeria don't appear to have enough to take advantage.
89 min Messi so nearly gets his goal. He buzzed infield from the right, played a fine one-two with Milito to go through on Enyeama, but he couldn't quite get the bobbling ball under control and Yobo got back to clear for a corner.
90 min There will be a minimum of four minutes' added time. Argentina are keeping the ball very well at the moment.
Full time: Argentina 1-0 Nigeria That's it. Argentina should have won by five or six, yet they were not especially convincing with the inevitable exception of Lionel Messi. You can rate the players here if you want. Thanks for your emails; I'm off to find some Quilmes.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.