For 90 minutes Lionel Messi looked like a ghost rather than the hero of Argentina. Being one of the best players in the world, though, means that it takes just one moment of brilliance to change a game, and on Saturday that moment arrived in stoppage time with a long-range effort from his left foot that beat Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi and saved the Albiceleste from an embarrassing draw.
The win guarantees Argentina a spot in the knockout rounds, and seriously damages Iran’s chances of pulling off a shock top-two finish in Group F.
LA PULGA: Lionel Messi is maybe the best player in the world, but though he’s won basically everything there is to win in the game of soccer, that list of accomplishments still doesn't include his very own World Cup. He’s been under enormous pressure to deliver for an Argentinean fanbase desperate for another title. Through two games, Messi has risen to the task with two game-winning goals. The scary thing is that he hasn’t played his best soccer yet. This might just be a year of destiny for Argentina, and if so, Messi might go down as the best player in history.
The goal from another angle. https://t.co/gzkkaMOfs5— Richard Whittall (@RWhittall) June 21, 2014
THE WHEELS FALL OFF THE BUS: Iran defended like lions for most of this game (check out the graphic of their defensive interventions below), Haghighi parrying everything Argentina sent his way and the team in front of him breaking up the Albiceleste attack with timely tackles. This was a textbook “parking the bus” sort of game for Team Melli, and they very nearly pulled it off to complete one of the most remarkable upsets in World Cup history. As it stands, Iran’s winless streak in World Cup play that has lasted since 1998 will have to continue for at least another game.
Argentina vs Iran summed up in one picture pic.twitter.com/BJd6PULzcB— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) June 21, 2014
THE NO-CALL: Iran actually put together some pretty aesthetically pleasing play on offense, dribbling through Argentina’s defense and deking their way out of tackles with the kind of flair that you might expect from, say, Argentina. In the 64th minute Iran’s aggressiveness paid off with what looked to be a foul on Ashkan Dejagah by Pablo Zabaleta inside the penalty area. Rather than award Team Melli the PK that would have allowed them to go ahead 1-0, Serbian referee Milorad Mazic swallowed the whistle.
Iran deserved a penalty. pic.twitter.com/H82uJ6nAKT— Amir Khorramshahgol☫ (@Amir_KH97) June 21, 2014
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ashkan Dejagah, Iran – Dejagah looked brilliant today in midfield, giving Argentina’s defense fits while he was moving forward and giving their offense fits while making tackles in the center of the park. Easily the best performance of any field player.