In an instant, yet another Messi moment
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- It was a moment in which time stood still. The chants were silenced, the air was cut off and all eyes were focused on the same spot.
This was the time that passed from when the ball left Lionel Messi's left foot and began its long journey until it crossed the line and hit the back of the net. It was then that hearts began to beat again and the roars of the crowd created an almighty din. This moment alone secured Argentina's victory over Iran in Belo Horizonte.
A flash of clarity from an enlightened soul. The only one who could prevent a stale 0-0 in the Mineirao. But make no mistake. The Barcelona star didn't play well at all. Isolated on the right flank he didn't feature much in the game. Tired of not getting the ball, he made the same mistake he has before; dropping back too far and moving away from the area where he can make a difference.
He completed 84 percent of his passes from 50 attempts, but he linked up very little with strikers Gonzalo Higuaín (2), Sergio 'Kun' Agüero (1), Rodrigo Palacio (2) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (3). The teammate he passed to the most was Fernando Gago (22).
The change from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3, which was the players preference, was not accompanied by an improvement in the standard of play. There was a shortage of ideas to break down Iran, who were set-up very well, and they suffered too much in the second half. And the referee even ignored a penalty claim against Pablo Zabaleta.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero once again figured prominently. The poor individual performances included Messi. Leo threatened with a pair of free kicks and a move similar to his goal against Bosnia, but this time his shot went just wide. In total, he had only three shots in each half.
After his goalless trip to South Africa in 2010, Messi has scored two goals in two games in Brazil, which have ensured the early qualification of the Selección for the round of 16. After the final whistle had blown, the fans that overwhelmed the bleachers once again celebrated the goal when it appeared on the Jumbotron and paid their respects to Messi.
"We've got ourselves a genius, who all teams would love to have, but luckily he's Argentine. He's a decisive player. With Messi anything is possible," said manager Alejandro Sabella in the news conference. For his opposite number, Carlos Queiroz, "the main reason that Argentina beat us was that they had Messi."
It was telling how the Iranian players reacted following the late goal from the No. 10, later chosen as man of the match. Slumped on the floor, devastated.
Messi had some special fans in the stadium: his wife Antonella and son Thiago. He dedicated his goal to his son. Aside from his love for goals in World Cups, which is no minor detail, it's important that the captain is aware that the team needs to improve. "We need to iron out some mistakes, we're the first to admit that we're not where we need to be in terms of our performances".
In the meantime, there was a moment that prevented any unnecessary issues.
Messi's sheer talent ensures solutions. What's worrying is relying solely on them.
Nicolas Baier is senior editor based in Buenos Aires at ESPN.com/ Latin America. Nico is in charge of coverage of the Argentine National Team, having reported on Maradona's Argentina squad at World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Follow him on Twitter @NicolasBaier