RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The race for the World Cup golden boot turned into a Barcelona battle Wednesday as Lionel Messi scored twice to lead Argentina to an entertaining 3-2 win over Nigeria and match Neymar’s tournament-leading four goals in three games for Brazil.
Xherdan Shaqiri also vaulted into contention by scoring a hat trick as Switzerland beat Honduras 3-0 to qualify second in Group F. He joined Karim Benzema and Enner Valencia, who could not add to their three tournament goals each as France played out a 0-0 draw against 10-man Ecuador that ensured the French won Group E.
Bosnia recorded its first ever World Cup victory in the day’s other match, downing Iran 3-1 as both teams exited the tournament.
The Swiss will next face Messi and Argentina on Tuesday in Sao Paulo. France plays Nigeria in Brasilia on Monday.
One player who may not be in the reckoning for tournament top scorer is Luis Suarez, who is the focus of a FIFA disciplinary investigation after he appeared to bite the left shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on Tuesday and could be facing a lengthy ban.
He should know soon if he will be sanctioned. Uruguay plays Colombia Saturday in the round of 16.
“We have to resolve it either today or tomorrow,” FIFA disciplinary panel member Martin Hong told reporters. “It’s our duty to see justice done.”
Messi drew level with Barcelona teammate Neymar when he pounced on a rebound in the third minute and then curled in a freekick shortly before halftime.
“Messi is one of heck of a player, he’s blessed. You can’t take it away from him,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said. “Messi is from Jupiter, he is different.”
The 22-year-old Neymar is relishing playing the World Cup at home and thriving on the pressure that brings.
“I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said. “Today my dream is coming true, I’m playing the matches that I’ve always wanted to be playing.”
Ahmed Musa matched Messi goal for goal in Porto Alegre, equalizing just a minute after Messi opened the scoring in the third minute and levelling again in the second half after Messi’s perfectly curled free kick shortly before the break had put Argentina ahead again. Marcos Roja finally sealed Argentina’s win in the 50th.
In Salvador, Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Avdija Vrsajevic got Bosnia’s goals in its historic win and Reza Ghoochannejhad scored for Iran, which had to win and hope Nigeria lost to progress.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz quit following his team’s exit, as did Japan’s Italian manager Alberto Zaccheroni and coach Luis Suarez of Honduras. Their Portugal counterpart Paul Bento, however, said he would stay on even if his team fails to qualify for the round of 16.
Portugal, the world’s No.4-ranked team, has just one point from its first two Group G games and is unlikely to reach the knockout stage even if it beats Ghana in Brasilia on Thursday.
While the World Cup goal glut continued on the pitch — with the exception of the France-Ecuador stalemate, Suarez was again hogging headlines with his latest alleged biting incident.
If FIFA rules that Suarez sank his teeth into Chiellini’s shoulder, it could suspend him for up to 24 matches or sideline him for a maximum of two two years. The Uruguay and Liverpool star is a repeat offender — he has twice been sanctioned for biting in his turbulent past, first in the Dutch league in 2010 when playing for Ajax and again in 2013 while in a Liverpool shirt. He also has been banned for racially abusing an opponent in England.
The latest scandal could cost Suarez more than time on the sidelines. Already, two of his sponsors — 888poker and Adidas — have hinted that they are looking closely at their deals with Suarez.
Meanwhile, tragedy struck in Nigeria before the country’s clash with Argentina, as an explosion killed at least 21 people in a shopping mall in the capital, Abuja. Many shops at the mall have TV screens but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said he was saddened by news of the blast and that his team’s progression to the second round is unlikely to offer any solace to the country as it suffers terrorist attacks. Nigeria is the first African nation to reach the knockout stages in Brazil.
“How much of a victory is football going to give for those lives?” he said.