Argentina vs Iran match report World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi conjures up extra magic to save Argentina’s blushes

Stoppage-time heartbreak for Iranians after dogged resistance

The Argentinians were horrified to find that a banner which proclaimed ‘Welcome, to the next world champions’ had been erected at their training base at Vespasiano, a short distance north of here, when they arrived two weeks ago. The well-meaning local Brazilians were instructed take the thing down and yesterday’s extraordinary events underlined why there are fewer certainties than ever in football.

The game which seemed like a form of self-expression for Argentina and its galaxy of talents turned into one of the great containment jobs – and so nearly the greatest – that this tournament has ever seen. For 90 minutes, the best strike force in the competition failed to breach the barrier of a team who had created the match’s outstanding opportunities

Only then did the golden left foot of the player the on whom the Argentine nation’s hopes reside provide a moment of incredible and near impossible theatre. Statistically, it went down as his second 1 v 1 opportunity in the game. In reality it was 1 v 5 when Lionel Messi dropped his shoulder, took the ball to the first man’s left and curled it around two defenders and the goalkeeper.  “Of course, we have a genius who is Messi,” his national team manager Alex Sabela said last night. “Everyone would like to have a Messi. But he is ours.”

In Buenos Aires, the post-mortems which followed an unconvincing win over Bosnia last week will reopen. Diego Maradona left this stadium looking distinctly unimpressed last night and if the European elite have one cause for hope it is that the South American powerhouses look unhealthily dependent, so far, on one individual. Messi is to Argentina what Neymar is to Brazil. Messi, transformed for Argentina since Argentina’s 2011 Copa America, has certainly answered all the old questions about the commitment to his country.

Too much optimism would be premature, though. Argentina did enough in flashes to reveal the threat that resides within. Their moments of sublimity in the sunshine came early, most of them authored by the incredibly sweet touch of Angel de Maria - dragging the ball under his left boot and racing off to drop his shoulder, with a count of four defenders left behind in his wake before the run was stopped.

Why did the goals not come? Messi cited the heat as a factor. His manager Alex Sabella, who professed himself “worried,” said he would look at the defence which is widely seen as a weak point. But the story actually belongs to Iran and the indefatigability Queiroz has imbued them with.

 

The five previous matches Queiroz managed in World Cup finals, for Portugal before Iran, had ended 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-1 and 7-0, against a North Korean side who must be wondered how that happened to them. The awareness and positioning of the Iranians’ two central defenders Amirhossein Sadeghi and Pejman Montazeri – who don’t tend to be stopped in the street beyond Tehran – were integral to what unfolded. Having five holding midfielders also helped. The Queiroz method of dealing with Messi is un sophisticated and entails refusing him the first touch.  “Get in strong and close; don’t foul but be strong and close,” as Patrice Evra, one of his old Manchester United charges once described.  It worked.

Messi certainly sensed this. “The central areas were shut off. [Angel] Di Maria couldn’t create any spaces,” he reflected last night.  Queiroz’s goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi  – dressed as the pantomime villain in all-black strip with gloves to match – also played his part. He leapt and twisted to claw the ball after Higuain’s precise return ball to Sergio Aguero teed up a shot in the penalty area. It was the best move that was manufactured in a first half which delivered Argentina 73 per cent of possession and pitifully little to show for their trouble.

But it was in the second half that Iran deconstructed the old notion of an imperious football team. So completely have the smaller nations mastered a capacity to challenge the elite that Queiroz did not even leave the stadium with expressions of pleasure at a part in the spectacle. He unleashed anger at the Serbian referee for not allowing a penalty at the death and observed that he had thrown on attacking options at the end. “We wanted and needed the win,” he said.

It was some accomplishment for a squad impoverished by international sanctions imposed over its government's uranium-enrichment programme. Masoud Shojaei, of Las Palmas, shook off Messi, found  Montazeri, of UmmSalal, who delivered a low accurate cross for Reza Ghoochannejad, of Charlton Athletic. The goalkeeper Sergio Romero dropped down on it to save unconvincingly.

That was just the start. Mehrdad Pooladi raced ahead of Pablo Zabaleta to meet another impeccable cross from the right by Montarezi. Romero needed all of his athleticism to leap and touch the ball over the bar. Reza Ghoochannejad was put through on goal, with Garay left in his wake. Romero leapt to palm away his shot, despatched as Zabaleta made the challenge which had Queiroz alleging injustice. And then came the Messi moment.

Today is anniversary of the hot afternoon in Mexico City when the Hand of God put paid to a robust defensive display from England.  Many in Argentina reject comparisons with Maradona but is his another of that champion class in the ranks. As Sabella put it last night: “When you have Messi, anything is possible.”

Line-ups:

Argentina (4-3-3): Romero; Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di Maria (Biglia, 90); Messi, Higuain (Palacio, 77), Aguero (Lavezzi, 77).

Iran (4-2-3-1): A Haghighi; Hosseini, Sadeghi, Montazeri, Pooladi; Timotian, Nekounam; Dejagah (Jahan Bakhsh, 85), Shojaei (Heydari, 77), Haji Safi (R Haghighi), Ghoochannejhad.

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballLive: Latest news from Champions League draw
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?