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World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi strike saves Argentina’s blushes

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Written by Chris Winterburn

Argentina survived a scare this evening with Lionel Messi’s 91st minute winning goal the difference between Alejandro Sabella’s side and Iran in a 1-0 victory for the South American giants.

The Iranians were once again well organised defensively as well as posing an efficient threat on the counter-attack and it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to suggest the underdogs deserved a victory, let alone the draw they so nearly earned.

The similarities between Italy’s performance against Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and Argentina’s against Iran were striking. Argentina had very little tempo when in possession of the ball however still squandered a number of chances in the first-half from set pieces with Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez both heading over the bar from close range.

Iran, as they were against Nigeria in the week, were defensively strong. Javad Nekounam performed well as a holding midfielder, often dropping in at centre-half whilst Alireza Haghighi looked confident when dealing with balls delivered into the penalty area.

Alejandro Sabella after staunch criticism for his use of a 5-3-2 formation at the beginning of the opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina selected Gonzalo Higuain from the beginning however the Napoli forward was almost passenger throughout aside from one chance in the first-half, leaving Messi isolated when withdrawing into a deep midfield position to receive the ball.

Argentina in fairness did have the better of the opening 45 minutes with Iran looking to consolidate a strong defensive display. The aforementioned Higuain chance came just before the half hour with the Napoli forward firing straight into Haghighi’s midriff from close range. Iran’s confidence grew from there with the half closing with Carlos Queiroz’s side going close from a corner through central defender Jalal Hosseini.

The half-time break appeared to have refocused Argentina with Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Aguero all looking to create a chance in the opening five minutes. From this moment however Iran looked to take control.

Argentina in search of an opening goal left far too many gaps in defence and midfield and should have been punished in the 55th minute when Ashkan Dejagah was denied a penalty. Replays showed a mistimed Zabaleta challenge was in actual fact, a foul. Dejagah had Iran’s next big chance ten minutes later when the Fulham midfielder forced an excellent save out of Sergio Romero following a diving header.

Panic set in to the Argentine team with attacks becoming frenzied and first touches slack. Alejandro Sabella looked to respond by introducing Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi but both struggled.

Charlton’s Reza Ghoochannejhad had put in a lot in terms of closing the Argentinean defence down however luck deserted the frontman in the final third with Romero pulling off yet another fantastic stop four minutes from time after another counter attack.

Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of playing styles it was difficult not to admire the focus and determination of an Iranian side plagued by off the pitch troubles prior to the tournament. A side, who were reportedly told not to swap shirts at the end of matches due to a financial inability to replace them, looked set to secure their second point of the tournament until a largely quiet Lionel Messi weaved his wand of a left foot.

With just three minutes of added time remaining Messi produced the trademark cut inside onto his strong left foot from the right hand side of the penalty area, taking two Iranians out of the game before curling a shot into the top corner in just the manner he has done so many times before.

Initially the crowd in Belo Horizonte, made up mostly by Argentineans, erupted in a wave of audible delight however the full-time whistle was accompanied by a small amount of discontent from supporters who felt Iran deserved better.

The victory spares Argentina’s blushed on an evening when they really didn’t deserve one point, let alone all three however the passage to the knockout stage has been forged by Lionel Messi who looks to be in the goalscoring form to carry his team to the latter stages.

Domino’s Pizza are offering football fans a chance to change goals into prizes this summer courtesy of the brand new, free to download ‘Domigoals’ app.  To stand a chance of receiving great prizes such as:

·        1 goal = £5 off a £15 spend
·        2 goals (brace) = £10 off £20 spend
·        3 goals (hat-trick) = £20 off £30 spend
·        Consolation prize = 25% off £20

Then all you need to do is be ready to tap the app every time a goal is scored during a match and, if you’re one of the first 1000 off the mark each time, you’ll get one of these aforementioned prizes.

Try the app out for yourself, you can download on Android or iOS here: http://www.dominos.co.uk/blog/domigoals-app/

Eriksen shines once more as Fulham miss opportunity to escape trouble

Younes Kaboul celebrates his goal which put Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 to the good this afternoon. (Photograph by GETTY IMAGES)

Younes Kaboul celebrates his goal which put Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 to the good this afternoon. (Photograph by GETTY IMAGES)

Written by Chris Winterburn

In the week where Tottenham Hotspur boss Tim Sherwood declared the club has lacked a world class player since the departure of Gareth Bale in August, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen once again put in an eye catching performance which once again proved it won’t be too long before Spurs can once again claim they have a world class footballer on their books.

In what was an archetypal match of two contrast halves, Tottenham took the spoils in a 3-1 victory whilst a win for visiting Fulham would have taken the Cottagers out of the relegation zone for the first time since late January.

If Felix Magath was worried that his side’s poor performances in getting positive results in the last two Premier League outings against Aston Villa and Norwich would catch up with them at White Hart Lane, it certainly didn’t show with the German coach once again choosing to go with a back five system which incorporated wing-backs on either flank. The result was a significantly fluid, mobile system which Tottenham struggled to break down throughout the opening forty five minutes of play.

Eriksen was given the freedom to drift from his left sided starting position due to the lack of Fulham bodies on the right hand flank with Alexander Kacaniklic, a winger by trade, being utilised as a wing-back. It was rather surprising Spurs didn’t try and target that area more directly as the half progressed.

With Eriksen drifting into his coveted role as a number ten it was interesting to see Harry Kane sacrifice a chance of scoring a goal by moving across the line and try to exploit a bit of space on the left flank and this made for a very easy on the eye, chess like battle for the opening exchanges between the two sides this afternoon.

With Felix Magath having attributed luck to his team’s victory against Norwich last weekend it was expected that the team would have had it drilled into them during the week that a higher level of performance was needed and that is exactly what Fulham gave. With Kacaniklic becoming more and more adventurous as a wing-back as the first half wore on it was interested to see Johnny Heitinga shuffle across to the right hand side of defence and hold a position there whilst holding midfielder William Kvist dropping in at centre half.

It was almost identical to the system utilised by Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side at White Hart Lane in the Europa League not too long ago and once again Spurs struggled to break down an incredibly mobile defensive line. At the back Fulham were like a spring such was their mobility through the wing-back system. When the situation required it they could be compact and stop any moves at all breaking through the middle whilst at other times they could expand, move into wider areas as Heitinga looked to do and restrict the wide threat from Eriksen, Kane and Lennon. As Adebayor became increasingly isolated it looked as if Spurs were set for another poor result as happened against the Portuguese giants.

However the first glimpse of Christian Eriksen brilliance saw Spurs take the lead. A devilishly whipped in free-kick across the face of goal from the right hand side took both the Fulham defence and goalkeeper out of the game and Paulinho had a simple finish on the line into an open goal. It was no surprise that Spurs’ opening goal came through a set-piece with the hosts having struggled to break down Fulham’s defences in open play for the previous thirty four minutes.

There was widespread shock just two minutes later as Fulham were level. If ever a side epitomised the danger of not concentrating after having just scored then it was Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham in the thirty sixth minute. Not one Spurs player bothered to close down a fairly slow paced Steve Sidwell run towards the penalty area and when Hugo Rodallega managed to hold the ball up and flick it into the path of Sidwell the inexperience of defensive partnership of Kaboul and Fryers was highlighted as the two ran into each other giving Sidwell a one on one against Hugo Lloris.

The game was poised at half-time with another forty five minutes of Spurs attempting to break Fulham down expected, however Tottenham gave Fulham no time to work back into the earlier defensive rhythm with a headed goal from Harry Kane two minutes after the restart. It was a fairly simple goal with Fulham having not reached full concentration after the break and Aaron Lennon took full advantage by putting in an impressive cross which landed right on the head of Kane in the middle of the penalty area.

The game settled into a steady ebb and flow until the hour mark when Fulham’s frailties with regards defending set-pieces were highlighted once again. Another Eriksen delivery across the face of goal rendered Fulham helpless with Younes Kaboul on hand to knee the ball into an open goal from mere yards out.

This goal realistically killed the game off with Spurs now in control and not having to search for another goal whilst Fulham didn’t look to have either the stomach or the quality to mount an inspired fightback. A surprise penalty was awarded in Fulham’s favour fifteen minutes from time which could have given the Cottagers hope only for Steve Sidwell to fire the ball straight at the as ever, impressive Hugo Lloris.

Defeat is by no means a disaster for Fulham when you look at Norwich’s remaining four fixtures however you do feel as if today was a massive opportunity to build a bit of belief by climbing out of the relegation zone. Still Fulham were so impressive defensively today and the work of Hugo Rodallega up front showed the club do have an outlet for attack with the season approaching a climax and next weeks’ match at home to Hull City could be another chance for Fulham to pull off the great escape.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Defeat to Everton all but seals Sunderland’s fate

Written by Chris Winterburn

Sunderland’s display at home to Everton this afternoon showed a great deal of character if not the necessary quality to overcome an in-form side challenging for Champions League football next season.

Gus Poyet’s men knew prior to kick-off that anything other than a victory would most likely not be enough to give the Black Cats a fighting chance of avoiding the financially perilous drop into the Championship. Poyet abandoned his recently favoured five at the back system with Santiago Vergini dropping out of the starting eleven with the experienced partnership of John O’Shea and Wes Brown preferred.

There was a tense feel around the ground from the start which was only made worse as news filtered through from around other grounds that goals were going in for Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and latterly Cardiff City which made Sunderland’s task even more challenging. It was clear that the midfield three of Cattermole, Ki and Colback would have to be incredibly mobile to avoid being overrun by Everton’s quartet of attacking talents, a fate suffered by Arsenal just six days earlier.

Whilst it wasn’t the attractive football Poyet had promised when he first took the Wearside job the first half display was effective. Sunderland’s high pressing and concentrated area of challenges around the centre circle restricted Everton’s movements going forward and Roberto Martinez’s side had the look of a frustrated team as they found it harder and harder to break into Sunderland’s defensive area.

Gerard Deulofeu, given yet another start by Martinez, was the only bright spark in what was in truth a dismal opening forty five minutes as the quick footed winger tested his fellow countryman Marcos Alonso on the right hand side with great regularity. Alonso simply had no answer to Deulofeu’s speed and quick feet, often being left in an awkward position with Deulofeu at least five yards further up the touchline. Had Deulofeu’s decision making been less selfish Everton could have been a goal to the good before half-time with Sunderland leaving gaps at the back following a corner kick.

Sunderland’s defensive line was guilty of dropping deeper and deeper near the climax of the first period and whilst this was effective in crowding out Everton attacks in and around Vito Mannone’s penalty area it made counter attacks very difficult with Fabio Borini finding himself charging up the field with the ball with absolutely no support on a handful of occasions. The best chance of the game came just before the break when Borini took the ball round Tim Howard and placed a shot that was goal bound only for John Stones to clear the ball off the line in what was a hugely solid performance from the teenager.

Connor Wickham has been asked to do a very difficult job since his return from a loan spell at Elland Road. In fairness the former Ipswich Town striker looks low on both fitness and confidence and being isolated at the top of the pitch did him no favours as Sunderland’s defensive solidity came first. With Fabio Borini’s energy in effect just behind Wickham you feel as though Steven Fletcher’s eye for a run in behind was a real miss today.

Everton themselves did not click as well as in previous fixtures this afternoon with the free flowing and at times frantic attacking football that tore Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal to pieces last weekend just not there this afternoon. Ross Barkley’s introduction just prior to the hour mark was supposed to rectify this however it was Deulofeu who would make the difference late on.

Despite the Spaniard having drifted out of the match not long into the second half, Deulofeu picked up the ball on the right hand flank, beat Marcos Alonso yet again and fired the ball across the face of Sunderland’s goal only for Wes Brown to clip the ball into his own net past the wrong footed Mannone.

You always felt as though Sunderland would have to score first this afternoon if they were to earn all three points and when Everton took the lead the mood around the Stadium of Light became one of considerable concern. The crowd did their best to urge Gus Poyet’s side on and the hosts did have a number of chances in the remaining twenty minutes but none which truly tested Tim Howard in the Everton goal. Worryingly for Sunderland, whilst throwing men forward in attack they left the back door wide open and Everton could have scored at least two further goals had there been more composure within the Toffees’ forward line.

At this point Sunderland sit rock bottom of the Premier League on twenty five points whilst Cardiff City and Fulham have both moved onto twenty nine and thirty points respectively courtesy of victories this afternoon. Although Sunderland do still have a game in hand you do feel as though there is no too much to do for Gus Poyet and his side and a rebuilding job with a year in the Championship may well be close on the horizon.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4