Lionel Messi gives Argentina a last minute victory over Iran

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After holding Argentina to a dull draw in the first half, then playing out of their minds in the second half, Iran will be devastated to have left Belo Horizonte without a point. The magical Messi came through for Argentina once more, scoring in injury time to give his side their second win.

The first half of Argentina – Iran was rather dull. Iran defender Jalal Hosseini put two headers off target, while the supposed firepower of the albiceleste managed just two shots on target. Despite Alejandro Sabella returning to Argentina’s favored 4-3-3 formation, the combined powers of  Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel di María and yes, even Lionel Messi could not break through the iron-clad Iran defense.

After the restart, Iran started to come out of their shells – and managed to give Argentina a couple of decent scares.

In the 52nd minute, Iran finally broke through with a fantastic chance. There was a good chance Sergio Romero might have been caught napping, as the Argentina goalkeeper had little to do throughout the match, but his reflexive save kept out a sharp shot from Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Shortly thereafter, the referee waved away Ashkan Dejagah’s appeals for a penalty. He tangled with Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the area, and likely had a good case – Argentina were lucky to get away with that one.

In the 67th minute, Dejagah came knocking once again. Romero was forced to fingertip his strike from distance over the bar, and Argentina breathed once more.

Messi had a great chance to put his chance ahead, but his free kick ruffled the side netting. Moments later, Ángel di María tried his luck, but Alireza Haghighi was there to stifle the shot. Finally, with fifteen minutes left to play, Sabella elected to make changes, bringing on Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi for Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín.

Yet Argentina still couldn’t break through. Indeed it looked like the best chance of the final minutes would fall to Iran, with Ghoochannejhad breaking free to go one on one with Romero. His shot was beaten away by Romero, however.

Then, in the game’s dying minutes, Messi performed a moment of magic once more. The forward streaked down the right only to cut inside, jigging past Ghoochannejhad as he did so. With his left foot, he sliced a perfect, curving shot into the far top corner of the net, just out of reach of a stretching Haghighi.

LINEUPS

Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Garay; Fede Fernández, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di María (Biglia 90); Messi, Higuaín (Palacio 77), Agüero (Lavezzi 77)

Iran: Haghighi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Montazeri, Pooladi, Shojaei (Heydari 77), Nekounam, Teymourian, Dejagah (Jahanbakhsh 85), Ghoochannejhad, Hajsafi (Haghighi 88)

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE