ST PETERSBURG, June 27 (Reuters) - Nigeria paid the price for the inexperience in their squad when they were eliminated from the World Cup in heartbreaking style by Argentina on Tuesday, but defeat in St Petersburg will serve as a valuable lesson, their coach Gernot Rohr said.
Nigeria, who have the youngest team at the tournament, came into the match needing to avoid defeat to hopefully progress to the knockout rounds and, but for Marcos Rojo’s late strike, would have held on for a deserved draw instead of losing 2-1.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Rohr told reporters. “My team gave their best. They played a very good second half and missed qualifying by just a few minutes. These kind of matches build the character of the team.
“In the end Argentina were pushing, pushing, pushing. And they have great players. This is championship level and we are not ready for that now. It was also down to a little bit of luck and we didn’t have it today.”
Nigeria fell behind to an early goal from Lionel Messi, who opened his account in Russia with the tournament’s 100th goal, but the Africans equalised from the penalty spot six minutes into the second half.
They set about the task of stifling the South Americans with aplomb until a late lapse of concentration allowed Manchester United defender Rojo to turn in Gabriel Mercado’s cross in the 86th minute and snatch victory for Argentina.
“It is what it is. It just wasn’t to be,” Nigeria’s skipper Jon Obi Mikel said. “It’s a young team and in four years most of the players will be ready for this tournament.
“We have a group of boys who want to improve... and this is very good for Nigerian football.”
Rohr said the players who had taken Nigeria to the brink of the knockout stages would show much greater maturity at the next World Cup.
“We have a very young team who lack some experience, but in four years we’ll be very strong,” he added. “I’d like to continue with this team because I have a good feeling about them.
“It’s a good cocktail of usefulness and passion and we have discipline. We’re missing experience and in the last minute conceded that goal, but this is learning.”
Argentina, urged on by practically an entire stadium clad in their traditional blue and white shirts, move on to a round-of-16 meeting with France in Kazan on June 30.
“I think Argentina can do very well in the World Cup,” Rohr said. “It will be an interesting game against France. If they find the spirit they had today, pushed on by their supporters, they will be able to do well in the World Cup.” (Reporting by Simon Jennings in St Petersurg, additional reporting by Angus MacSwan, editing by Neil Robinson)