Reza Ghoochannejhad

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)

Iran names…24-man squad for World Cup

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Iran has named the 24 players that will be traveling to the 2014 World Cup. Coach Carlos Queiroz will eliminate one name after receiving a medical report on Hashem Beykzadeh, who was injured in last week’s friendly with Montenegro. However, replacement Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh is likely to travel to Brazil, just in case.

The majority of players will likely not be recognized by those that don’t pay attention to Asian football, but there are a few familiar faces going to Brazil.

Perhaps Iran’s biggest star is Ashkan Dejagah, who represented Germany at various youth levels. The Fulham forward who was one of the Cottagers’ most consistent performers during their dismal season. Carlos Queiroz brought in others from the Iranian diaspora, including California-born Steven Beitashour, now playing for Vancouver Whitecaps.

Try to remember Reza Ghoochannejhad as well – you can call him Gucci. He’s scored nine goals in the eleven matches he’s played for his birth country.

Interestingly enough, for a country that seriously lacks in the attacking department, Quieroz cut three forwards from his 28-man preliminary roster. Mohammad Reza Khalatbari, Mehdi Sharifi and Sardar Azmoun won’t be going to Brazil. Goalkeeper Sousha Makani will also stay at home.

Iran 2014 World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha, on loan from Rubin Kazan), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan)

Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Mehrdad Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis), Khosro Heydari (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh ((Zob Ahan Isfahan)

Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Haddadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas)

Forwards:  Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Persepolis, on loan to Tractor Sazi)