Nigeria's John Obi Mikel furious after Marcos Rojo's 'clear handball' not called
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel was left confused and frustrated after Marcos Rojo was not whistled for "a clear handball" late in the Super Eagles World Cup-ending 2-1 loss to Argentina.
With the match tied 1-1 and Nigeria finding space between the Argentina backline, Rojo went for a headed clearance that deflected off his hand and led to a video review.
Nigeria's players were adamant it was a penalty, but Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir -- who awarded Nigeria a penalty early in the second half that Victor Moses converted -- used VAR and stood by his initial decision not to award a spot kick, much to the frustration of Nigeria's players.
"I don't understand how that was not a penalty," Mikel said. "It was a clear handball. If you look at this game yesterday against Portugal, this was even worse."
Rojo went on to score Argentina's late winner to send his side through, and put Nigeria out.
"He [Rojo] had the ball and it hit his hand and it was open. Maybe the referee didn't want to give a second penalty," Mikel said. "For us, we've seen the replay, it was a clear handball. He looked at the VAR, the ball hit the hand.
"I asked him for explanation, did the ball hit the hand? He said `Yes.' Why is it not a penalty? He did not know."
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr also believed the penalty should have been awarded, but he was more understanding of Cakir's position.
"I believe it was a hand," he said. "I didn't see the video. It is difficult for a referee to make a good interpretation."
The inexperienced Super Eagles -- the youngest team at the 2018 World Cup -- were also guilty of not finishing off numerous chances that could have put Argentina away. And Rohr believes that killer instinct will come with time.
"It's a big disappointment," Rohr said. "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," 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.
Information from Reuters was used in this story.