We wanted Lionel Messi to step up and own a World Cup, and it looks like we just might get our wish.
The world's best player has played two, won two, scored two so far in Brazil—and both of them match-winners.
On Saturday, Messi played the hero in the most textbook way possible—scoring from 25 yards in the first minute of injury time to decide a previously scoreless affair in Argentina's favour.
It was harsh on Iran, who had defended brilliantly for most of the match and even had chances to grab a winner themselves, but it made for a fantastic spectacle for all who watched the game. It was just Messi being Messi, producing the goods when he absolutely had to.
Messi spoke about the meaning of his goal after the match, per The Guardian:
As soon as I got the ball at the end we were all in attack because we wanted to put Argentina through with a win. Obviously I was very happy with the strike and then I heard people screaming and smiling.
(Iran) were able to close us down at the back and it was very difficult to find space. It was very hot, too. But we still had many opportunities in the first half; they had some in the second half too. Now we’re qualified for the next round and that was our objective today.
If that was the most dramatic moment of the day, then the best game came later, as Germany faced Ghana in Fortaleza. After Germany's 4-0 win over Portugal to start the competition, few gave Ghana (who had lost to the United States) a chance. Yet, Kwesi Appiah's side actually came from behind to lead, thanks to two quick goals around the one-hour mark.
They could not hold on—as Germany's Miroslav Klose got yet another World Cup goal—but it sparked a fantastic finish to an entertaining match, as both sides chased a late victory. Unfortunately, neither of them had a player on their team called Messi, though, so the game ended level, 2-2.
Neither country is through to the next round yet, and Ghana's hopes are hanging by mere threads.
Then, in the penultimate late kick-off of this tournament, Bosnia and Herzegovina lost to Nigeria, a result that sent them out of the competition. The European side tasted the opposite of the Messi experience, as their striker and talisman Edin Dzeko missed two glorious late chances that could have prolonged his country's chances in the competition.
Only one country has a Messi, as if we did not already know that. The question is: How far can that take them?
Results in brief—Day 10
Argentina 1-0 Iran
Germany 2-2 Ghana
(Goetze, Klose; A. Ayew, Gyan)
Nigeria 1-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina
1. Notes from Day 10
Share the wealth... For the second game in succession, Leo Messi scored Argentina's winner, bailing them out of a hole and grabbing them three points when it looked like they might just be held to a frustrating draw.
Messi was at his individual best at the end against Iran, with his goal helping to erase memories of the many failed solo runs that came before it.
Much has been made about Messi making this "his team" this time around (including choosing the team and what formation it plays), but you wonder if he will have to find a way to elevate his team-mates if his side are to be really successful once the latter stages of the competition roll around.
Record-setting stuff... Two major milestones were reached during Germany's entertaining 2-2 draw with Ghana in Fortaleza. Firstly, Asamoah Gyan joined Roger Milla as the all-time leading African goalscorer at a World Cup, as he fired his fifth goal on the game's biggest stage.
And then came the big one: Miroslav Klose coming off the Germany bench and joining Brazil's Ronaldo as the competition's all-time leading goalscorer, with the 15th of his career. Congratulations to both.
Reza-n to be so disappointed... Iran striker Reza Ghoochannejhad might just be the last person in the world to realise that, wherever possible, you should avoid showing Lionel Messi onto his left foot. Undoubtedly exhausted by the effort of the preceding 90 minutes, Reza surprisingly gave Messi room inside as the game entered injury time, and he and his side paid the ultimate price for it.
Blue is the colour... For the second time in this group stage, neutral observers saw successive games where both Christian Atsu (Ghana) and Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria) caught the eye with their respective play.
Both are currently on the books of Chelsea, yet both have almost no chance of being involved with Jose Mourinho's first-team squad next season. Still, on the evidence of performances in Brazil, they could well be a useful loan pickup for one Premier League side or another.
2. Quote of the Day
All players who played today have contributed to this victory but of course we have a genius who is called Messi.
Fortunately he is Argentine. Everybody would have liked to have Messi but it is us who have him.
— Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella (per The Guardian)
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
5. A good day for...
Carlos Queiroz. Every kind word Sir Alex Ferguson ever said about his former assistant was quickly circulated on Twitter during Iran's game against Argentina, as they held their more vaunted opponents for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Queiroz's own managerial career took a battering after poor spells with both Real Madrid and Portugal, but his defensive work in particular with Iran has done wonders for his ongoing reputation.
Another club job will surely be in the offing before too long—and, at the very least, Queiroz will be high on the short list of any other national team willing to pay good money for a high-profile tactician. His future job prospects are assured.
6. A bad day for...
Edin Dzeko. The World Cup dream has turned into something of a nightmare for Dzeko, who has gone goalless for his country in two group games to date. Reaching this level was a moment of huge celebration for all involved with Bosnia and Herzegovina, an outpouring of emotion for all those who lived through the horrors the country experienced in the 1990s.
But Dzeko could not add to that moment with a goal in the opener against Argentina and then fired blanks again as his country crashed out of the competition against Nigeria. Dzeko had two great chances to prevent his side from going out and squandered them both. It's a day to forget.
He will hope to get a first World Cup goal against Iran in the final dead rubber. Considering how Queiroz's men have defended in this tournament, however, that may be a very hard task.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Belgium vs. Russia (Group H: 5 p.m. BST/Noon EDT)
Having waited for their chance to make their bow in the tournament and stumbling out of the blocks slightly, it will be interesting to see how Belgium fare in this game. The performances of other sides in the competition will surely have done little to scare a squad with such talent at their disposal, but Russia will make it very difficult for them to play their natural game.
South Korea vs. Algeria (Group H: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. EDT)
With both sides having failed to win their opener, this is a vital clash for both—especially South Korea, who perhaps might sense they do not want to be going into the last game needing to beat Belgium. Both showed glimpses of attacking invention in their opening games, it will be interesting to see whether the higher stakes of this one edges both sides toward a more defensive approach.
United States vs. Portugal (Group G: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. EDT)
After Ghana's enthralling draw with Germany, the group remains wide-open for either of these two sides. Portugal lost their opener to Germany but will surely want to bounce back strongly considering the inadequacy of that display. The U.S. held on to defeat Ghana, but they surely cannot repeat that backs-to-the-wall trick twice—especially if Cristiano Ronaldo is near full fitness.
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