Jalal Hosseini

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.