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A second half header by Gabriel Batistuta gave favourites Argentina a narrow, but deserved, win over a determined Nigeria. The Group F match-winner was an excellent effort from the back post off of a Juan Veron corner kick.

The low score line was misleading as both sides played attacking, skilful football in Ibaraki, Japan. Argentina especially created many chances, largely behind the explosive combination of captain Veron and Ariel Ortega. The Argentine's will undoubtedly take confidence from their performance as they head into the match against England on 7 June. Nigeria face Sweden next on the same day.

Both sides clearly had attacking on their mind from the beginning, and although Nigeria had their dangerous moments, it was Argentina who carried the attack, with midfield general Juan Veron repeatedly picking out Gabriel Batistuta up the middle and Ariel Ortega wreaking havoc up the right wing.

Nigeria gifted Argentina a scoring chance that the Africans were lucky to come away from without having to take the ball out of their net. Goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu sent a goal kick straight to Batistuta, but Shorunmu did well to dive to his left and stop the Roma striker’s shot from just inside the area (20’).

A turnover after a Nigeria throw-in gave Ortega a chance to fire a screamer from 25 metres that Shorunmu could only parry out for a corner with his right hand (30’).

Jay Jay Okocha matched Ortega’s effort minutes later. He created the chance for himself by beating Juan Sorin on the dribble and blasting a rocket from 25 metres, and Pablo Cavallero only just deflected it over the bar with his fingertips (32’).

Despite all the fine chances, the half ended without a goal, though Argentina were perhaps unlucky to head into the dressing room without the lead.

Nigeria suffered a blow just after the interval, as striker Nwankwo Kanu had to come off because of an injury he had sustained in the first half.

Argentina twice almost got the first goal in the opening minutes of the second half. First a sliding Batistuta couldn’t get enough of the ball to guide it inside the right post (48’), and then Sorin rose above the defenders but flicked his header wide of the back post (49’).

Sorin had another gem of a chance when Ortega lofted in a neat chip to the Cruzeiro man, but he fired his shot from 15 metres right at Shorunmu (61’).

Batistuta finally got Argentina’s goal when it seemed they would never convert one of their great chances. Veron served a corner kick from the left side, and “Batigol” rose above team-mates and defenders alike at the far post to head the ball down past Shorunmu (1:0, 63’). The Roma star has now scored 10 final-phase goals and at least one in three different finals.

Nigeria seemed to come alive after the Argentina goal, and they began producing their best attacking play of the match. The best look at goal fell to the foot of Okocha from 20 metres, but his shot flew high and wide (75’).

But Argentina kept attacking and their defence never cracked. Ultimately Nigeria could do nothing to keep Argentina from walking off deserved victors.