Sunday 21 December 2014

Vine: Magic of Lionel Messi cruelly denies brave Iran deserved draw

Published 21/06/2014 | 19:10

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Iran at Estadio Mineirao on June 21, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's winner
Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Iran
Lionel Messi strikes Argentina's late winning goal to past Iran defender Reza Ghoochannejhad during their World Cup Group F game in Belo Horizonte. Photo: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts, as Iran's Ashkan Dejagah and Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (R) talk, during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the the Mineirao stadium
Iran's Ehsan Hajsafi (L) fights for the ball with Argentina's Fernando Gago during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium
Argentina's Lionel Messi (10) takes a freekick against Iran during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte
Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad (L) attempts to score a header, which was saved by Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero (not pictured)
Argentina's Lionel Messi fights for the ball with Iran's Javad Nekounam (L) during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium
Argentina's Lionel Messi (R) fights for the ball with Iran's Andranik Teymourian during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte
Iran's Alireza Haghighi saves a shot from Argentina's Angel Di Maria during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium
Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad (L) fights for the ball with Argentina's Ezequiel Garay during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium
Iran's Ashkan Dejagah (R) fights for the ball with Argentina's Javier Mascherano (C) and Federico Fernandez during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte
Argentina's Sergio Aguero reacts after missing a chance during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium
Argentina's Javier Mascherano and Argentina's Ezequiel Garay (2) walks past as Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad covers his face after heading the ball at the Argentina goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran
Iran's Ashkan Dejagah reacts after missing a scoring opportunity during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match against Argentina at the Mineirao stadium
Iran's goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi (2nd L) makes a save during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match against Argentina
Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero makes a save against a header by Iran's Ashkan Dejagah during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the the Mineirao stadium

Argentina once again required heroics from their talisman Lionel Messi as the diminutive forward scored an injury-time winner to secure qualification from World Cup Group F and break the hearts of a dogged Iran.

Having inspired his side to victory following a below-par performance in their opening fixture against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Barcelona man bent home a decisive goal in the dying embers of a match in which the hard-working Iranians did enough to take all three points themselves.

Both goalkeepers looked to be unbeatable as Sergio Aguero had Argentina's best chance and Reza Ghoochannejhad came close on more than one occasion for the underdogs, who also saw a strong penalty claim turned down as they slipped to a 1-0 loss.

Jalal Hosseini could not connect with an early Iran free-kick into the Argentina box as Carlos Quieroz's side looked to take an early shock lead and lump pressure on their high-profile opposition.

Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago had come into the side following their second-half influence from the bench in the win over Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the duo combined to create the best chance for Alejandro Sabella's team in the opening 15 minutes.

Gago played Higuain through on goal but saw his shot smothered by Alireza Haghighi, who showed quick reactions to race from his line.

Angel Di Maria was the next to try his luck but he could only bend an effort well over the crossbar, with Manchester City forward Aguero forcing an athletic save from Haghighi and Marcos Rojo heading wide as Argentina began to dominate proceedings.

With Iran only able to break free on rare occasions, Garay was the next to pass up a good opportunity as he only headed over from close range when under no pressure.

Having been left frustrated by a stubborn Iran in the opening 45 minutes, the second half started in a similar fashion for the South Americans, with Pablo Zabaleta curling a shot wide after being picked out by Messi.

Aguero could not make enough contact with a Rojo cross before Iran hit on the counter-attack and Ghoochannejhad's headed attempt forced Sergio Romero into a low save.

Iran could have easily been awarded a penalty moments later as Zabaleta mis-timed his challenge on Ashkan Dejagah, with referee Milorad Mazic unmoved as the Fulham winger protested aggressively.

Those scares seemed to spring Argentina back into life, with Messi only able to send a shot wide of the post after some good work from the Barcelona man, but Iran maintained their new-found threat as Ehsan Hajsafi let loose from distance.

Romero then made the save of the game as he was at full stretch to turn Dejagah's goalbound header over his crossbar.

The game was becoming increasingly stretched and Messi once again came close but could only hit the side netting from a close-range free-kick.

Sabella gambled with under 15 minutes remaining as he replaced Aguero and Higuain with fellow attackers Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Palacio saw a near-post header turned behind for a corner with Iran now pinned back in and around their own penalty area.

With just four minutes remaining, Iran dealt with another corner and Ghoochannejhad was played in behind the Argentina defence but the Charlton striker could not keep his shot away from Romero, who once again pushed his effort clear.

That missed proved to be costly as Messi took centre-stage, receiving the ball from Zabaleta and showing great composure to curl a shot perfectly out of the reach of Haghighi and into the corner of the net.

The goal means Argentina are guaranteed of a place in the knockout stages, while Iran remain on one point with just one group game remaining.

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