Lionel Messi scored in stoppage time to end the deadlock between Argentina and Iran as the South Americans qualified for the World Cup’s knockout stages in unconvincing fashion.
Argentina’s numerous fans had been expecting a goalfest at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium with the "Fab Four" strike force (Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Di Maria) lined up against lowly Iran.
But the highly rated Argentinians appeared to be heading for a blank until Messi's wonderful last-gasp winner.
The result gives Argentina six points from two games and takes them into the knockout stages.
But they will need more guile and precision against better opponents.
Iran, on just one point after a draw with Nigeria, will at least take heart from a fantastic performance against one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
Constantly crowded out by two and sometimes three Iranians, Messi was unable to pull the strings for most of the game and was once again sick during the first half.
The Argentinian star put two free kicks wide in either half, and saw a shot go wide after a trademark run early in the second.
In a succession of wasted chances for the South Americans, Gonzalo Higuain was quickly shut down by goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi in a one-on-one in the 13th minute, while Angel Di Maria shot over the bar and Sergio Aguero had a curling shot saved before half-time.
With their increasingly hopeful supporters heavily outnumbered but cheering “Ole, ole, Iran!”, Asia’s highest-ranked team defended en masse but also enjoyed some forays forward that could have caused a sensational result.
Sensing an upset might be possible at 0-0, Iran were bolder in the second half.
Lone striker Reza Ghoochannejhad broke free in the 53rd minute but shot straight at goalkeeper Sergio Romero before Ashkan Dejagah saw a strong header tipped over.
Then Ghoochannejhad got behind the Argentinian defence in the 86th minute, but his shot was saved by Romero.
With the misfiring Aguero and Higuain pulled off in the second half, replacements Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio were unable to provide the missing spark -- until Messi did.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-21