Messi sends Argentina through
Lionel Messi (AP Photo)
Belo Horizonte - A stunning injury time strike from Lionel Messi has spared Argentina's blushes as they qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup with a hard fought 1-0 win over Iran in Belo Horizonte.
As it happened: Argentina v Iran
Argentina had been
thankful to three fine second-half saves from goalkeeper Sergio Romero
just to be level heading into stoppage time, while Iran had also had a
strong penalty appeal waved away when Pablo Zabaleta appeared to foul
Ashkan Dejagah inside the area.
However, despite having endured a
quiet game by his standards, Messi produced a moment of magic when his
side needed it most to register his second goal of the tournament.
now lead Group F with maximum points from two games and will be
confirmed as group winners should Saturday's late game between Nigeria
and Bosnia Hercegovina fail to produce a winner.
However, after another underwhelming performance, Messi assured there is more still to come from his side
"We are not showing what we can do, but with a run of games I think we will get there.
"We are the first ones to know we have not reached the level we would like," said the Barcelona forward.
"They made the game very difficult for us," admitted Argentine boss Alejandro Sabella.
was marked very tightly, but he showed perseverance, patience, attitude
and always looked for the goal. He never gave up."- "it was a penalty" -
coach Carlos Queiroz also praised Messi's match-defining contribution,
but claimed his side had been undone by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic's
decision not to award a penalty when his side were on top in the
"Messi was fantastic, but the referee wasn't," said the former Real Madrid coach.
"I don't understand it, he had to have seen it was a penalty. He was five metres away, there is no way he couldn't have seen it.
"I have the right to say this and I only hope I am now not punished for telling the truth."
had resorted to the 4-3-3 system preferred by Messi with the four-time
World Player of the Year joined by Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero in
However, despite enjoying the vast majority of possession
in the first-half, La Albiceleste struggled to create chances from open
play against a well-organised Iranian defence.
The first opening
fell to Higuain from a fine pass by Fernando Gago, but Iranian
goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi bravely smothered the ball at the Napoli
Angel di Maria and Messi, from a free-kick, then
fired over from the edge of the area. Argentina were having some joy
from set-pieces and Marcos Rojo and Ezequiel Garay should have done
better when they failed to hit the target from close range from fine
deliveries by Messi.
Iran were also dangerous from set-pieces,
though, and they could even have gone ahead before the break when Jalal
Hosseini headed just over from a corner.
It was the Asian side who
threatened again at the start of the second period as Reza
Ghoochanneijhad forced a fine low save from Romero with a flashing
header at the near post, before Dejagah's appeals for a penalty were
turned down when he tumbled in the area under pressure from Zabaleta.
then had his first clear chance of the game as he raced onto Javier
Mascherano's pass but curled the ball just wide of the target.
was forced to come to his side's rescue again moments later when he got
fingertips to a fine header from Dejagah to turn the ball behind and
the Monaco stopper denied Reza once more as Iran threatened to nick all
three points on the counter-attack two minutes from time.
it was Argentina who snatched victory at the last as Messi created the
half yard of space he needed on the edge of the area before leaving
Haghighi with no chance as he curled the ball just inside the far corner
with his favoured left foot.