The 2013 African Cup of Nations-winning midfielder believes the Argentine genius has no equal.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has been tormenting opposition defences for the best part of the last two decades, and Nigeria have not been an exception, admits Denizlispor defensive midfielder Ogenyi Onazi.
Messi first showed his quality against the West Africans at the 2010 World Cup, peppering the Nigerian goal with shot after shot, but goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was up to the task, saving his team from embarrassment.
Gabriel Heinze’s header from a Juan Sebastián Verón’s corner kick was the only goal that separated the two teams on the day as the Lars Lagerbäck-tutored side crashed out at the group stage.
The Super Eagles’ next encounter with the six-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner was at the 2014 World Cup, where the midfield wizard and Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa traded braces before defender Marcos Rojo settled the tie 3-2 in the South Americans favour in the 50th minute.
It was Messi and Argentina versus the three-time African champions yet again at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Again, the Barcelona icon scored the opener, but Victor Moses equalized from the penalty spot shortly after the interval before Rojo netted a late winner to send Gernot Rohr’s men crashing out of the tournament.
Onazi was not a part of the 2010 World Cup team, having made his debut for the Super Eagles in 2012. But he witnessed as the six-time European Golden Shoe winner tore Nigeria’s defences to shreds at the following two editions.
“In my entire career in Italy, Turkey and the national team, the most difficult opponent I have played against is (Lionel) Messi,” said Onazi in quotes carried by The Punch.
“We played against him at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and he literally tore the entire team to shreds.
“You’ll see him walking, and the moment he gets the ball, you don’t see him anymore. He disappears. We kicked him all day till we got tired. We met him again in Russia, and he repeated what he did to the team in Brazil.”
“There is no player like him. He is in his own world,” he added.