Alireza Haghighi

WATCH: Top 10 goals of the 2014 World Cup’s group stage

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There have been a flurry of goals this World Cup – 136 of them so far, to be exact – and it doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Those 136 goals mark the most ever in a World Cup group stage, and it even set the record for most goals per game to beat out earlier World Cups with fewer qualified teams.

Every single World Cup team scored in the group stage. Many were beautiful, a few were spectacular, but they all counted the same.

So with that in mind, we’re set to run through the best ten goals of the World Cup group stage.

10. Claudio Marchisio vs. England

Italy bowed out disappointingly in the group stage, but they have one point of brilliance to hold onto from the team’s only win.  Scoreless against England late in the first half, they struck on a set-piece.  A corner came through low towards the top of the box, and Andrea Pirlo’s perfect dummy teed up midfielder Claudio Marchisio.  The midfielder struck a rocket along the ground perfectly into the far corner past Joe Hart for the game’s opening goal.

Unfortunately, Marchisio would follow that up with two dreadful performances against Costa Rica and Uruguay, culminating in a straight red in the finale.

9. Silvestre Varela vs. United States

With the United States on the brink of securing a guaranteed place in the knockout round and Portugal themselves on the precipice of elimination, star forward Cristiano Ronaldo combined with substitute striker Silvestre Varela to produce an equalizer that would prolong their country’s chances at making the knockout stage.

In the 95th minute with literally the last kick of the game, Ronaldo sent in a cross worthy of his Ballon d’Or, and it found the head of the streaking Varela to beat Geoff Cameron and give the game a 2-2 final score.  The situation and the build-up play give this goal the flair it needs to be on this list.

8. Clint Dempsey vs. Ghana

The fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever, Clint Dempsey opened school for John Boye and gave the United States a vital early lead after just 29 seconds against Ghana in a must-win match.

DaMarcus Beasley’s ball up the left flank was one-touch passed to Dempsey from Jermaine Jones, and the US striker did the rest as he deked passed Boye and hit the far corner with his low shot.

7. Memphis Depay vs. Australia

The up-and-coming Dutch midfielder secured the match-winner as his team went on to beat a pesky Australia 3-2 and mark one of their three group-stage wins.  Depay, just 20 years old, came onto the field when defender Bruno Martins Indi was forced off after a challenge from Tim Cahill.

With the game knotted at two each, Depay blasted a strike from well outside the box that curved and dipped, finally bouncing just in front of Maty Ryan and ended up in the far corner.  The goal was Depay’s first for his country.

6. James Rodriguez vs. Japan

With Colombia dominating its Asian opponents en route to its Group C victory, James Rodriguez wasn’t going to leave Cuiaba empty-handed. In stoppage time already up 3-1, the Monaco forward produced an amazing piece of individual skill to plant Japanese defender Maya Yoshida flat on his back after a complete 360.

5. John Brooks vs. Ghana

A winner that resonated all the way across the United States, the header by John Brooks earned the US three of their four eventual Group D points and was essential to their knockout-stage qualification.

Coming in the 87th minute against their arch-nemesis Ghana, the 21-year-old German-American defender – on as a substitute for an injured Matt Besler – picked out Graham Zusi’s corner and put it straight at the ground, bouncing it past Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey for the winner.  The ball actually just barely missed the head of Geoff Cameron who attempted to put the ball on net just in front of Brooks, so the youngster gets added points for not losing focus despite his teammate’s attempt in his face.

Jermaine Jones also bagged a pretty impressive goal for the United States against Portugal, but this one earned the US three points, and that alone gives it the trump card onto the list.

4. Lionel Messi vs. Iran

Lionel Messi has come to play in this World Cup. Playing on his home continent, he’s been the star man for Argentina despite plenty of doubters.  He earned three points with a late winner against Iran, a classic Messi goal in injury time, finding himself space at the top of the box before finding the far corner with the ball.  Nothing a diving Alireza Haghighi could do about that one.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri vs. Honduras (#1)

Scoring a goal quite similar in look to the Messi one was young Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri.  The Bayern Munich player doesn’t have a central role for his German giant, but for the national team he’s their main man. Needing a result against Honduras to advance past the group stage, Shaqiri bagged himself a hat-trick, but he’ll be hard-pressed to beat his first.

Just six minutes in, Shaqiri cranked a long-range shot perfectly into the top corner to set the tone early.

2. Tim Cahill vs. Netherlands

If it weren’t for the absolute stunning nature of our #1 goal, this one surely had Goal of the Tournament flair.  Having fallen behind just a minute prior, a Ryan McGowan long-ball from the midfield found Cahill streaking on goal, and despite being marked well by Stefan de Vrij, the New York Red Bulls striker ripped an immaculate volley off the crossbar and over the goal line before the ball could even touch the ground.

1. Robin van Persie vs. Spain

With the Netherlands under pressure from a bright Spanish start, the Dutch found themselves down 1-0.  Just as the sides were ready to go into halftime, Manchester United striker Robin van Persie produced one of the moments of the World Cup so far, and on just the second day of the tournament.

An absolutely perfect lofted ball from the defending half by Daley Blind caught van Persie flying on goal, and the Dutch striker launched himself through the air, connecting with the diving header and putting the ball past Iker Casillas.  Tied up at the break, the Dutch would go on to dismantle Spain in the second half, announcing to the 2014 World Cup how things would go in the group stage.

Honorable mention: Miroslav Klose vs. Ghana

This goal has to be mentioned at least once because it tied the all-time record for World Cup goals.  It would have made this list too if there hadn’t been so many beautiful strikes, since his run was timed perfectly and it secured a valuable point for the Germans, but nonetheless it deserves to be given its due.  We may yet see Klose break the record in the knockout stages if Germany progresses to the later rounds.

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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.

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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.

Short on goals, chances, Nigeria and Iran play to 2014 World Cup’s first draw

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The first draw of the World Cup is a scoreless one, with one of the least-anticipated matches of Brazil 2014 living up ito its almost non-existent expectations. After a game nearly as devoid of chances as goals, Iran and Nigeria finished as they started in Curitiba, with both teams earning a point in a 0-0 draw.

Nigeria’s closest opportunity came in the ninth minute when shots from Ahmed Musa and Ogneyi Onazi implied the Super Eagles were in for chance-filled evening. That implication proved false, with the match’s only other good change coming off an Iranian corner in the 39th minute.

After a tournament whose first nine games produced the highest goal rate since 1958, the meeting was a disappointment – a let down that’s reflected in the teams’ schedules. With Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead for both, Iran and Nigeria ended their best chance for full points with feckless performance.

Both teams continue their World Cups on Saturday, with Iran facing group favorites Argentina in the day’s early game in Belo Horizonte. Nigeria faces Bosnia and Herzegonvina in Cuiabá in a match neither team can afford to lose.

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Nigeria controlled play from the opening whistle and looked set to go in front in the ninth minute when Emmanuel Emenike created a chance for Musa. The close range opportunity, saved by Alireza Haghighi, gave way to a second chance for Onazi, though the midfielder pulled his shot wide of Haghighi’s right post.

The rest of the half saw a reserved but stalwart Iran cede possession in favor of organization, a tactic that turned into a solution as the Super Eagles were held without a another chance before halftime. Iran, on the other half, nearly took a surprise lead when a 39th minute corner tested the reflexes of Vincent Enyeama after a headed shot from Reza Ghoochanneijad. The Iranians would go into halftime with only 29 percent possession, but they held the Nigerians to two shots on target.

The second half saw the Iranians flip the script, recording five shots over the period’s first 20 minutes as they pursued full points. Though Nigeria continued their monopoly of the ball, they rarely tested Haghighi. Despite a let push, Nigeria put only two shots on target over the final 45 minutes.

For all their renewed vigor, however, Iran couldn’t do better. Though Carlos Queiroz’s team ended the match with nearly as many shots (10-9, Nigeria), their second half ambition failed to produce breakthrough. Enyeama was not called on again after Ghoochanneijad’s corner.

As a result, both teams were left with a draw from a match they should have approached as a must-win. With Group F’s favorites coming up for each, neither Iran nor Nigeria are going to have a better chance at points than they had in Curitiba. Yet come full-time, both teams lacked the ingenuity to prevent the tournament’s first scoreless draw.

LINEUPS:

Iran: Haghighi, Heydari (Shojaei 89′), Haji Safi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Timotian, Montazeri, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah (Jahanbakhsh 78′), Pooladi

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona (Yobo 29′), Oshaniwa; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Azeez (Odemwingie (69′), Moses (Ameobi 52′); Emenike

 

At halftime: Chances scarce as Iran, Nigeria reach intermission scoreless — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: One-way traffic saw Nigeria shake off the sluggish form of their final warmup match to control play against Asia’s surprise qualifiers. With only one good, early chance, however, the Super Eagles didn’t give Carlos Queiroz’s man any reason to change-up. At halftime, the teams are still level, even if the Iranians have scarcely seen the ball.

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Goals: Yeah, right.

Other key moments:

9′ – Controlling play from the opening kickoff, the Nigerians looked good for a quick opener in the thanks to Emmanuel Emenike. Going wide into the left in Iran’s penalty area, the Super Eagles’ number nine stretched his opponents’ defense before firing a ball just above the six-yard box. Ahmed Musa, coming in from the right, couldn’t get there in time to beat Alireza Haghighi, with the followup from Ogenyi Onazi pulled wide of the left post.

34′ – Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama gets awoken from his slumber with the best chance of the match, a header from Reza Ghoochanneijhad that almost converted Iran’s first corner. Hit to the near post, the restart saw the Charlton striker redirect his shot down toward the middle of goal. Unfortunately, the ball was also pushed straight at Enyeama, whose right hand kept two zeros on the scoreboard.

LINEUPS:

Iran: Haghighi, Heydari, Haji Safi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Timotian, Montazeri, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah, Pooladi

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona (Yobo 29′), Oshaniwa; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Azeez, Moses; Emenike

Numbers to know:

69% – Nigeria’s possession over the first 45 minutes.
6 – Number of Iran fouls. Nigeria had seven. Though they’ve dominated the ball, the Super Eagles have been unable to inspire any urgency from their opponents.
19 – The number of passes Iranian defender Andranik Teymourian made in the first half, leading his team. Six Nigerians bested that mark.
0 – Accurate crosses Nigeria completed before halftime.

Questions for the second half:

  • Will Iran find their moment? Except for a nervous moment in the ninth minute, the match has gone as Iran may have imagined. They don’t have the ball, and Nigeria’s been able to generate more shots, but Iran’s been relatively comfortable while waiting for their moment. The question is whether that moment will come.
  • Is one enough (for either team)? With Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead for each team, this is Iran and Nigeria’s easiest game of the tournament, making it difficult to reconcile a draw with hopes of advancing past the group stage. Will either of these teams press for full points, knowing this is their best chance to claim them? Or will they be conservative and hope fortune favors them when they’re asked to be braver?