LIONEL MESSI scored twice, including a sumptuous free-kick, to help Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 and ensure qualification to the knockout stages as winners of Group F.
Messi’s two goals were twice cancelled out by Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa but Marcos Rojo’s second-half finish made sure Argentina took all three points.
Despite their defeat, Nigeria also progressed to the last 16 as Iran were beaten 3-1 by Bosnia-Herzegovina – meaning the Super Eagles go through as runners-up.
Messi’s double means he is now joint top-scorer with Brazil striker Neymar on four goals and while the No 10 was substituted and spared the final half an hour of the game, his emphatic form means Argentina will go into the knockout stages in high spirits.
Iran’s dreams of a place in the last 16 were ended by goals from Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Avdija Vrsajevic. Reza Ghoochannejhad scored a late consolation for Iran, who had won just one of 11 previous games at the tournament.
Later in the evening, France secured top spot in Group E and a last 16 showdown with Nigeria as Ecuador’s Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia saw red for a two-footed lunge in the Maracana.
Valencia, also sent off for tangling with Raheem Sterling in the friendly against England in Miami earlier this month, went over the top of the ball on Lucas Digne, leaving the referee in no doubt.
Ecuador fought on with 10 men to the end but, condemned to go out of the tournament by Switzerland’s easy win over Honduras, had only pride as their reward for the 0-0 draw.
A Xherdan Shaqiri hat-trick fired Switzerland into the knock-out stages with a 3-0 victory over Honduras and set up a mouth-watering tie against Argentina.
Shaqiri scored twice in a dominant first-half Swiss display and while Honduras rallied after the break, the talented Bayern Munich midfielder put the result beyond doubt with 19 minutes left to play.