Argentina vs. Iran: 6 Things We Learned
After a shaky performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Argentina were once again less than impressive against Iran, despite securing a 1-0 win.
The brilliance of Lionel Messi was the difference between the sides, as he curled in an injury-time winner following more than 90 minutes of determined defending from the Iranians.
Alejandro Sabella's side has now qualified for the knockout stages, while Iran will need a win in their final group game to have a chance of going though.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Iran Can Defend
Anyone who watched Iran's AFC qualification campaign will be well aware that the side's strength is in defence, and Iran proved that once again opposite one of international football's most intimidating attacks.
Iran topped their group in the last phase of qualifying by virtue of their excellent defensive discipline, conceding only two goals in eight matches.
And Argentina saw close up how hard the Middle Eastern team is to break down.
A statistic of 64 percent possession did not help the South Americans, who were unable to break though Iran's serried lines until Messi's moment of magic.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are next up for Iran, and the Europeans must be concerned about their chances of finding the net in the final group game.
A 4-3-3 Is Sabella's Preferred Formation
Against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alejandro Sabella tried out a 5-3-2 formation from the start, but after half time, he reverted to the 4-3-3, which had been his favoured setup during the qualification process.
Argentina looked far more comfortable in possession in the second half of their opening game, and they continued their dominance with the ball against Iran, even if they had trouble breaking down their Asian opponents.
Sabella is likely to stick with 4-3-3 for the remainder of this tournament, with 5-3-2 remaining his "plan B" option.
It Looks Like the South American Teams Will Get the 'Home' Decisions from Refs
After 54 minutes, Pablo Zabaleta challenged Ashkan Dejagah in Argentina's area. The Iran player went down and the referee indicated a goal kick.
Replays indicated that the last touch in fact came off the defender but, more importantly, that he had appeared to foul Dejagah.
It was a situation that more often than not would result in a penalty.
It appears that referees will be hesitant to award penalties against heavily supported South American sides, who enjoy something of a home advantage at this World Cup.
Dejagah Is Top Class
Though he started on the right of midfield, Dejagah popped up all over the place for Iran.
He was the side's liveliest attacker, showing real dynamism and threatening the Argentine defence on a number of occasions.
Aside from the penalty call, which went against him, Dejagah also came extremely close to scoring with a flying header, which was just tipped over by Sergio Romero.
Sabella Has a Lot of Work to Do
Using what was his ideal starting XI, Sabella must have been dismayed that his star-studded side had so much trouble against a feisty but limited opponent.
Several players put in poor performances, including the highly rated duo of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.
Angel di Maria, too, had a quiet game by his standards, while Messi's influence was limited up until his goal.
Some of Argentina's less glamorous names were actually among their best players in this match, with Marcos Rojo doing well down the left and Sergio Romero saving the side's blushes with several crucial saves.
Sabella will be hoping it is his star players who shine in subsequent matches, and he must find a way to get the best out of them.
Messi Is the Key
It is not too controversial to say that Messi has not yet reached his best form in Brazil 2014.
Nonetheless, he has lit up the tournament with two gorgeous goals, both of which have ensured Argentina grabbed all three points in matches in which they were not totally dominant.
Those two goals show why Messi is rated so highly and why Argentina will remain among the favourites to win the World Cup despite not playing particularly well in their opening games.
Messi can only improve, and even if he is not at his best, he is good enough to win matches on his own in a few short seconds.
As long as he is in the team, Argentina can beat anybody.
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