Argentina vs Iran: Little man Lionel Messi makes a big difference

The master does not move much, but enough to win games

Belo Horizonte

At the very least, he justifies all the debate, all the fuss about him. He also wins matches, and may yet go a long way to deciding the destination of this World Cup trophy.

Follow the World Cup latest here

Lionel Messi seized this tournament in the most assertive and symbolic manner possible. Just when  his team needed him, and  after a largely poor display, he came up with a last-minute moment of glory.

The perfect No 10 curled in a superb stoppage-time strike from outside the box to beat a defiant and supremely brave Iranian team.

That Diego Maradona was watching only added another dimension.

A goal like this may yet become one of the defining images of this World Cup.

One of the enduring images of the first half was Messi moving back towards the halfway line, picking up the ball and seeing all 11 Iranian players in front of him. That is a situation not too frequent for a forward who plays so high up the pitch.

 

One other enduring image, however, was Messi strolling around the opposition half with very little urgency. That is becoming very frequent.

In that regard, the Argentine play-maker is no longer quite the sonic blur of energy he used to be when Barça were at their peak between 2009 and 2011.

There is a much greater languidness to his game. Some would say laziness. At the end of Barça’s disappointing  2013-14 season, his low mileage stats became an increasing topic of debate. Similarly, it has been argued around Camp Nou that this is all a further consequence of the overbearing influence and ego Messi is developing. It is something that has come under further scrutiny in the last week, as debate has grown about whose decision it exactly was to change formation back to 4-3-3.

The difference is that on the occasions when he decides to do something Messi still tends to show why exactly he may have developed that ego. The eventual goal proved that.

He can go from a heavy afternoon to a lightning storm in an instant. The burst of acceleration remains devastating. The touch is still immaculate.

Messi conjures up magic to save Argentina's blushes

His first action of note in the game displayed all of that. That it came as late as the 18th minute showed his lack of rigour, but the eventual move was marvellous. Picking up from Angel Di Maria’s driving run, Messi swiftly turned and released Gonzalo Higuain. One pass opened up the entire Iranian defence, only for the striker’s poor touch to let them off the hook.

Unfortunately for Argentina, Iran began to ensure such space was at a premium. Messi also found himself increasingly pressurised in the moments he began to move.

Andranik Timotian twice took him down, Javad Nekounam bundled him over when he was through. At the final whistle, the Iranian captain actually gestured that they should swap shirts after the game, but that should perhaps not be considered too craven a show of respect. It certainly didn’t come across in the Asian side’s robust play.

It was causing conspicuous frustration. By that point, Messi was definitely reflecting his team: some nice touches and a suggestion that it could get better, but the feeling that they were not yet fully on it; that a hesitation or perhaps complacency remained.

He did pick up the pace with one brilliant run just before half-time, only to place the ball just wide, but then went on another long stretch without doing anything other than delivering free-kicks. One in the 74th minute, at least, almost curled inside the post.

He eventually found that target, and in such a thrilling way. It all came together.

Messi yet again delivered. He didn’t dominate this game but he is still becoming the dominant player of this World Cup.

Messi didn’t move much. He moved enough.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor