Alejandro Sabella

Martino to reunite with Messi as Argentina’s new manager

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Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino has only managed Lionel Messi on the club side, but it appears he will have the chance to do so internationally, as his appointment to Argentina’s managerial opening is imminent.

Martino has had considerable experience managing Argentina’s club teams since 1998.

“Our first candidate is Martino. If we agree with the economic issue and the agreements that everyone seeks, Martino will be the new coach,” AFA general manager Miguel Silva said. “We have one outstanding point, and we’ll either agree or we will not agree.”

Martino didn’t have the type of high-quality season one comes to expect out of Barcelona in his short one-year stint in Spain. He failed to lead the team to one major championship–falling to Atletico Madrid in the race for both the La Liga title and Champions League crown.

Barca was closer to capturing the league honors. Coming down to one match against Atletico in May, Martino needed a win to seal it and unfortunately succumbed to a draw. In Champions League play, however, Barcelona wasn’t able to make it past Atletico in the quarterfinals, the first time they’ve haven’t been a semi-finalist since 2007.

Still, Martino’s succession of Alejandro Sabella, who brought Argentina to the brink of a World Cup victory only to have Germany defeat them in the championship, looks almost like a sure event.

“In principle, the idea is (to meet with Martino) on Thursday. If he meets the AFA’s expectations, the idea is to close a deal,” said Luis Segura, now the president of the Argentina FA following the death of Julio Grondona.

Grondona’s passing canceled the press conference when Sabella was supposed to officially announce his resignation, but last week, media reported that he would no longer coach the squad.

WATCH: Sabella shocked, or did someone truly fail a trust exercise?

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There’s been excitement as Belgium pushes Argentina for a Saturday equalizer, but there’s also been humor.

Check out Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella’s reaction to Gonzalo Higuain’s frame-working clanking attempt at a brace in the second half of their quarterfinal match against the Red Devils.

Either he carried his dramatics too far, or Mariano Andújar has seriously-failed a trust tree exercise.


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)

At halftime: Goalless between Argentina and Iran…FOLLOW LIVE

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As expected, Iran spent much of the first half with ten men packed behind the ball. Argentina were unable to weave their way through such tight defending, and despite having the majority of possession, could only register two shots on target.

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

Goals

Zero.

Other key moments

4′: Iran waste a huge chance to take a surprise lead when Jalal Hosseini puts his header well wide

13′: Alireza Haghighi makes the first save of the game, blocking a strike from Gonzalo Higuaín

18′: The referee helping out Argentina by stealing the ball from an Iran player and gifting it to a blue-and-white shirt turns out to be the most exciting moment thus far

22′: Haghighi palms away a shot from Sergio Agüero

37′: A free kick from Lionel Messi falls kindly for Ezequiel Garay, but he puts his header over the bar

42′: Hosseini’s header from Ashkan Dejagah’s corner goes high, in a near-replica of Iran’s first chance of the game

LINEUPS

Argentina : Romero; Zabaleta, Garay; Fede Fernández, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di María; Messi, Higuaín, Agüero

Iran: Haghighi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Montazeri, Pooladi, Shojaei, Nekounam, Teymourian, Dejagah, Ghoochannejhad, Hajsafi

Question for the second half

What can Argentina do to break through the mass of Iran shirts huddled in front of goal?
The patient buildup has yet to work for Alejandro Sabella’s side. Of course, they’re likely fine conserving energy and playing out a draw, but that’s not the Argentina we’ve all been hoping for. Sabella could bring on some fresh legs – Gonzalo Higuaín is looking a bit ragged and may be carrying an injury, but Ezequiel Lavezzi is available to take his place – in an attempt to change up both the tempo and the dynamic.

Game on: Lineups and a brief look at Argentina vs. Iran

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Argentina’s free flowing attack should be on full display against an Iran side intent on defending. Catch the action at 12 noon ET.

[ MORE: Bosnia show fight against Argentina | Nigeria, Iran give us first draw of tournament ]
[ MORE Soccerly: Preview | Follow Live ]

LINEUPS

Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Garay; Fede Fernández, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di María; Messi, Higuaín, Agüero

Iran: Haghighi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Montazeri, Pooladi, Shojaei, Nekounam, Teymourian, Dejagah, Ghoochannejhad, Hajsafi

Talking points

Will reverting back to the Fantastic Foursome make Argentina fun again?
In their first group game against Bosnia, Alejandro Sabella sent his side out in a 3-5-2 formation, featuring five defenders rather than the much-hyped four-prong attack. A Bosnia own-goal put Argentina in front, but it was the Dragons that controlled most of the play during the first half. Argentina were noticeably better in the second half, after Gonzalo Higuaín came on to join Ángel di María, Sergio Agüero, and, of course, Lionel Messi. It’s the lineup Sabella is going for from the start this time around, so let’s hope it provides plenty of entertainment.

Will Iran’s defense hold out?
Coached by Carlos Queiroz, a man well known for favoring a defensive mindset, Iran was always going to be one of the – dare we say it? – duller sides to watch at this World Cup. Sure enough, they held Nigeria to a goalless draw in their first game. But Argentina’s got a little more bang up top than Nigeria, so Iran will need to be careful not to put a toe out of place. If they can master Bosnia’s art of triple-teaming Messi, they may come away with a point. Or they may simply come away thankful that they kept Argentina to two goals. Or, who knows, they may be yet another surprise in a tournament already packed with them.

Expectation
Iran do their best to hold firm and keep out Argentina’s potent offense, but Sabella’s tactical shift should mean there’s no way of stopping his fantastic foursome. Expect goals!

One blogger’s prediction
That this one will be much closer to what we expected from Argentina from the start. It should be a comfortable win for Messi & Co.