Lionel Messi rode to the rescue of Argentina with an injury-time goal to steal a 1-0 win over a spirited Iran side in their Group F clash in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.
For long spells, Iran more than matched Argentina and looked like they were going to snatch a point. But, with the clock ticking down, a previously disappointing Messi cut in on his left foot and curled a quite stunning goal into the far corner.
It was not vintage from Argentina—it was actually quite disappointing—but they have a superstar in their midst who is capable of leading them to World Cup glory.
Argentina and Brazil won't win the World Cup if they are to keep playing like this. Colombia and Chile are way too entertaining to watch.— San (@Zizouology) June 21, 2014
Iran’s game plan was fairly predictable: Put as many players behind the ball as possible.
Call it negative all you want, Iran are being realistic here. Sitting deep, defending, trying to shock the opposition on a set piece/counter— Jonas Giæver (@CheGiaevara) June 21, 2014
Argentina must have expected this coming into the game, and they enjoyed a raft of possession in the opposition's half. But, with a team defending so deep and in numbers against them, chances were thin on the ground early on.
The first opening of note fell to Gonzalo Higuain on 13 minutes, as he collected a pass from Fernando Gago. But Iran keeper Alireza Haghighi raced off his line to make a smothering save.
With chances at a premium, Argentina were disappointingly wasteful on 19 minutes. From an Iran corner, Angel Di Maria burst forward at pace. But, after a clever one-two, he failed to pick out one of three team-mates in advanced positions.
Haghighi showed his keeping prowess for the second time in the match on 22 minutes when diving to his left to keep out a curling effort from Sergio Aguero.
Iran became a little more confident as the half progressed, and a clever free-kick set Ehsan Hajsafi galloping free down the side. But his cross was disappointingly off target.
A huge chance fell to Ezequiel Garay on 37 minutes, as Messi picked him out from a free-kick. But the defender failed to direct his header from six yards on target.
Argentina continued to probe down the flanks, and Marcos Rojo fired in a superb cross to Aguero, but he mistimed his header completely.
Iran had many in the crowd in Belo Horizonte rooting for them, and they gave them something to cheer when forcing Argentina keeper Sergio Romero into action for the first time in the contest on 53 minutes.
Showing fine attacking at pace, the ball was slipped out to Pejman Montazeri. His cross was precise, enabling Reza Ghoochannejhad to line up his header, but Romero was able to beat it away.
Showing further attacking intent, Ashkan Dejagah burst forward and pleaded with referee Milorad Mazic for a penalty, but Pablo Zabaleta got just enough of the ball.
Penalty or not? http://t.co/LEvUeYH516— Football Vines (@Vine_Football) June 21, 2014
Messi offered little in the first half, but he came to life shortly before the hour with a run and shot that flew just wide.
Iran looked as likely as Argentina to score for spells on the second half, and a powerful header from Dejagah forced a brilliant reflex save out of Romero.
As Argentina threw men forward in the final 10 minutes, Ghoochannejhad dashed clear on the break and forced a fine save from Romero.
His save proved vital as Messi delivered the ultimate sucker punch. Alejandro Sabella's side underwhelmed, but Messi lifted them to victory.
When Messi picked the ball up, he did not appear to pose a great threat. Most players would not have presented much danger in this situation, but Messi was able to cut inside and curl an unstoppable shot into the net.
The win takes Argentina into the last 16. They will have to improve if they are to lift the World Cup, but with Messi in their ranks, it is possible.
Iran remain alive heading into their final game against Bosnia-Herzegovina. They'll need a win and favorable outcomes in the other matches to advance.
|Argentina Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-Half Rating||2nd-Half Rating|
|Angel Di Maria||5||4.5|
|Iran Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-Half Rating||2nd-Half Rating|
|Alireza Jahan Bakhsh||6|
Argentina coach Sabella feels his side have plenty to work on as the tournament progresses (via FIFA.com): "We have to have a good look at what happened and try to improve. We have a few causes for concern."
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz paid tribute to the match winner: "Messi can change games just like that. He kept looking and looking and in the end he got his reward."