SAINT PETERSBURG, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Lionel Messi's goal in the first half and Marcos Rojo's late goal helped Argentina progress to the World Cup knockout stage after a 2-1 victory against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium here on Tuesday.
As Croatia advanced as group winner after defeating Iceland 2-1 in the other Group D match, Argentina, with one win and one victory, finished second to secure a round of 16 clash against France.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made wholesale changes to their starting 11 compared with the game against Croatia.
Messi opened the account in the 14th minute by slamming a long-range pass from midfielder Ever Banega into the far corner of the net.
The Argentina captain, having been chosen as man of the match, almost doubled the lead when Angel Di Maria won a free kick in the attacking half in the 32nd minute but Messi's left-footed shot hit the post.
Victor Moses levelled the score in the 50th minute by converting a penalty kick awarded after Javier Mascherano's foul inside the box.
In the 76th minute, Nigeria launched a fast counterattack but Odion Ighalo's shot narrowly missed the target.
Manchester United defender Rojo saved the South American side from the brink of an embarrassing exit four minutes from the final whistle when he surged into the area to place Gabriel Mercado's cross into the bottom corner.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli praised his team for their endeavors to win after the match. "The players were really brave and that courage made the second goal possible," he said.
A total of 64,468 spectators attended Tuesday's match at the 65,000-seat stadium, with Argentina fans outnumbering Nigeria supporters by a large margin.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr expressed his gratitude to the support. "I want to thank our supporters who have come a long way to be here. Most matches we played in felt like away games. But it's not about the quantity of supporters but the quality, and I think we have the best ones."
FIFA statistics showed that Argentina made 8 attempts at the goal throughout the match, while Nigeria made 9. Ball possession was 65 percent for Argentina and 35 percent for Nigeria.
The match at Saint Petersburg Stadium marked the fifth World Cup clash between Argentina and Nigeria and the South African outfit won all the five.
Argentina will play against France in their next game in Kazan on June 30. Messi said they have already studied their opponents in great detail.
"We have watched every single France game. We follow every game. France is a very good team with skilled individual players. They have very fast players who can really make a difference. I know what we will have to do. It will be a very tough game, no doubt," Messi said.