DANNY Shittu has a cunning plan to deal with Argentine sensation Lionel Messi.

The big defender’s idea doesn’t involve zonal marking, nor starving the Barcelona ace of possession – he has cooked up a rather more straightforward method of making sure Group B’s most dangerous opponent doesn’t have it all his own way against Nigeria.

“My tactic is just to take him out in the first couple of minutes,” he smiles. “If I can get near him.”

Shittu is only half kidding. For while the Wanderers centre half has been frustrated at his lack of first team action this season, he is determined to make the most of his time in the spotlight – or shop window.

The clash with Argentina on Saturday provides the perfect opportunity to show his defensive skills to potential suitors. Although the 29-year-old admits it won’t be easy.

“It doesn’t help that every time you turn on the Spanish football, he’s scoring two or three goals,” he said. “He’s probably the best striker in the world at the moment, so of course it will be a huge test for me and the team.

“That’s what the World Cup is about for me – going out there, having a good time, and making something of yourself.

“We can’t leave ourselves too open because they have got some great players even aside from Messi – especially after I take him out in the first minute – and they have got Maradona managing them. What doesn’t he know about football?”

Despite failing to make an impression on the Wanderers first team, Shittu has been a mainstay of the Nigerian defence at major tournaments in the last few years, and earned 24 international caps.

New coach Lars Lagerback has brought him into the fold once again, where he is likely to play alongside Everton’s Joseph Yobo or Salzburg’s Rabiu Afolabi.

Having reached the semi-finals of the African Nations Cup back in January, Shittu says expectation levels have increased significantly among the notoriously ruthless football public back home.

“It doesn’t matter what tournament, what opposition or what game you are playing, people back home expect Nigeria to win,” said the defender. “You have to win every tournament. Silver isn’t good enough.

“Right now, that’s one of the situations we are having to deal with in African football, and more so Nigeria because if you don’t win, people are not really happy.

“The press is fanatical too. But I enjoy playing under that pressure, anyway, because I like to prove people wrong.”

Nigeria buckled under the pressure in their bid to qualify for the last World Cup, and needed a late goal from former Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins to reach this year’s competition.

“The qualification summed it up,” Shittu agreed. “That’s why we didn’t make it in 2006 – we didn’t take the first couple of games seriously. You just keep thinking ‘don’t worry, we’ll qualify,’ but when it comes to the end you are put under even more pressure.

“When it came down to that last qualifying game, one of the big things that was being pressed into us was that this was the first World Cup in Africa.

“We absolutely had to be in it, and we only just made it through. It would have been a crime to miss out.”

The group stages also pit Shittu against his team-mate Chung-Yong Lee, of South Korea, who was living on his nerves as he left the Reebok for the summer.

“I told Chungy on the last day of training that I was going to come from behind and slide tackle him,” he laughed. “South Korea are a really good team. They did well in the 2002 World Cup and beat the Ivory Coast recently.

“I suppose we would fancy beating Greece, so it would come down to that game to see who qualifies, but we haven’t written off a win against Argentina.”

Success for Nigeria, reckons Shittu, would be a third appearance in the last 16, where they are likely to meet either England or France should all go according to the form book.

“We have got the right players and I believe with the right management, we can go there and do well,” he said. “I think all the people back home do too.

“African football has really moved on over the last couple of years. You have got the Cameroons, Ivory Coast and Ghana who have built-up a stock of good players. For Nigeria, we have got so many great players playing in Europe, not just in the English Premier League.”