BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Victory, a goal from Lionel Messi and qualification for the second round. It would seem to be a perfect result for Argentina, but in reality it was far from it. The team played poorly and really struggled against a weak opponent. But then the best of them all appeared, the great hope, and scored a fantastic goal that earned the three points. From Mineirao Stadium, ESPNFC.com presents the key moments from the game.
Until the 46th minute of the second half, it was hard to find any positives for Argentina. They were drawing 0-0 with the weakest opponent they'll face in Brazil; they had been on the end of a number of counterattacks and had created very few dangerous chances. All the talk was of concerns for the upcoming games. But then Messi appeared and scored another fantastic goal that ensured qualification.
The No. 10 didn't play well. He didn't find his place on the pitch, he was tackled too often and he struggled to find space against the well-organised and massed Iranian defense. His teammates also failed to help him with this, as both Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero offered little or nothing in attack. However, Messi once again demonstrated why he's one of the greatest of all time and curled home a magnificent goal in stoppage time. The team played poorly, but Messi has a huge desire to be champion, and this could prove to be enough.
It came at Argentina's lowest point so far in this World Cup. Not only were they failing to break down the Iranian defensive line, but they were failing to get back, and this made life difficult against the limited Iranian strikers. After 21 minutes of the second half, Ashkan Dejagah beat Pablo Zabaleta for pace and connected with a great header from the edge of the 6-yard box. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero stretched and tipped the ball over the bar.
The Argentines committed a number of errors during this passage of play, and only the goalkeeper got things right. There was a lot of talk about the quality of Romero, but he's been one of the team's best players in these early games. He has responded well when called upon, and this save was key to earning three points, in what was a poor performance from coach Alejandro Sabella's side.
The "Battle of the Fans"
As was the case six days ago in the Maracaná, the Argentines were in the majority in Belo Horizonte's Mineirao Stadium. But once again, thousands of Brazilians were in attendance, supporting Iran but also singing their traditional songs such as "Sou brasileiro" ("I'm Brazilian) or "Pentacampeao" ("five-time champions"). The two sets of opposing fans, unsegregated, livened up the buildup and even the dullest moments of the game, of which there were many.
The new hit among the Albiceleste fans was: "Brazil, tell me how it feels to have your dad at home," which recalled the Italia '90 game in which the team of Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia beat Brazil in the round of 16. For their part, the locals got behind the Asian side and were very clear about the number of World Cups they have in the trophy cabinet. The image of the packed stadium was spectacular; sky blue and white with a number of yellow sections. What's more, aside from some minor disagreements, the "battle" was confined to songs.
Crosses into the Argentina box
It was after five minutes of the game. A free kick from the left side of the box, the ball was crossed in and Reza Ghoochannejhad was unable to provide the finish. It's true that the play didn't seriously trouble Romero's goal, but it also showed that with a simple dead ball, a very limited team such as Iran could create problems for Argentina. What's more, it was only the first time, as the Iranians almost always resorted to crosses in attack.
Moving forward, Argentina need to be much more careful in these situations. The cross was very similar to the one that led to German Thomas Müller's goal in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup. Four years later and they're still facing the same issues from crosses. It's a warning shot for the Albiceleste, because on this occasion they faced a side that were impotent in attack, but in the upcoming games they'll suffer a great deal more.
It took Sabella 72 minutes to make his first substitutions. It may have been too long, especially considering his side's poor performance. After 27 minutes of the second half, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio entered the fray in place of Higuaín and Agüero, two players who still haven't delivered even a fraction of what was hoped and required of them.
They were like-for-like changes, strikers for strikers, that didn't change the tactics or the plan, but they were important to freshen up the attack and so that Iran had to drop back, as in the second half they had pushed forward somewhat and created some real danger in the Argentine box. It's true that neither Palacio nor Lavezzi had goal scoring chances, but they overwhelmed and unsettled the Iranian side. The significance of them coming on was proven by Messi's goal.