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.
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