Argentina left it very late to overcome a valiant defensive effort from Iran on Saturday, scoring the only goal of the 2014 World Cup match in extra time to win 1-0.
Lionel Messi struggled for large portions of the match, but the four-time Ballon d'Or winner came through late with a phenomenal strike from the edge of the box.
The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre had seen this story before:
Messi a lefty LASER in stoppage time. Sweet shot. Argentina doesn't look good again, but will will on a Messi game winner— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) June 21, 2014
Argentina started with a very offensive formation, prompting this joke from Football Funnys:
Argentina starting with Messi, Di Maria, Aguero and Higuain, Iran defenders be like.. pic.twitter.com/5HosVApvNt— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) June 21, 2014
Via Just Football, the Iranians were in awe of the man they'd be facing on the day to the point where their captain asked for Messi's jersey before the match even began:
Iran captain Javad Nekounam asks for Lionel Messi's shirt before kick-off. | http://t.co/Zq8HhnJvMx— Just Football (@JustFutball) June 21, 2014
Messi was kept in check for much of the first half as Iran limited space beautifully, and the Argentine forward came closest to opening the scoring via a free-kick.
Via Squawka, Messi's first-half numbers weren't bad at all although fans seemed to disagree:
TSN's Kristian Jack shared this image, showing just how difficult it was for Messi to leave his mark on this match:
Not often you see Lionel Messi pick up the ball & have all 11 members of the opposition in front of him. pic.twitter.com/1IWCLUu0JV— Kristian Jack (@KristianJack) June 21, 2014
StanJames didn't wish to hear any excuses, however, as he felt Messi was putting in a poor effort:
Messi must be feeling under a lot of pressure right now. So much pressure he seems to have forgotten where the goal is #WideAgain— StanJames.com (@stanjames) June 21, 2014
It was nothing compared to the performance from Gonzalo Higuain. The Napoli forward had a miserable afternoon against Iran, fumbling away the few chances the Argentine team could muster.
Fans were understandably frustrated with the forward, who struggled to do anything right on Saturday:
Higuain still playing. Sigh.— Lucas Resende (@lucasammr) June 21, 2014
Talksport's Lee Roden couldn't believe the terrible form Higuain seemed to be in:
This reminds me of pre-season Higuain...— Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) June 21, 2014
Footy Accumulators were very clear in their assessment of his first 45 minutes:
Get Higuaín off at HT! #ARG— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) June 21, 2014
When he stayed on the pitch, they expected he would perhaps do what so many strikers often do:
Higuain up there with the likes of Dzeko and Mandzukic as players who are useless all match but always manage to score?— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) June 21, 2014
It never happened, however, and Higuain was substituted after 75 mediocre minutes as Argentina pushed forward for a late winner.
It didn't look like it would happen, with Iran holding down the fort expertly. The 90 minutes of regulation had already passed when Messi did what he always does—make the difference.
Picking up the ball on the right side of the pitch, the pint-sized forward cut inside and curled a beautiful effort into the far corner, winning the match.
BuzzFeed News had the Vine:
Social media immediately exploded with awe, and Roden explained why it's always unwise to judge great players like Messi before the final whistle:
I said before: it's always wise to wait until the game is finished & not prematurely tear Messi to shreds. He can hit you at any time.— Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) June 21, 2014
Argentina have looked underwhelming during the 2014 World Cup so far, but thanks to the struggles of some of the other teams in Group F, the Albiceleste are all but guaranteed the top spot heading into the knockout stages.
A date with either Switzerland or Ecuador seems likely, and both teams have already shown issues with their concentration during this tournament. While Iran showed it is possible to contain Argentina's powerful offensive unit, all it takes is one chance for a player like Messi to work his magic.
The Albiceleste will need to improve their level of play if they are to have any chance of winning the 2014 World Cup, but led by the mercurial Messi, they will be dangerous opponents no matter which team they face.