Iran kept Argentina off of the scoreboard today at Belo Horizonte for more than 90 minutes, but it wasn’t enough as Lionel Messi produced a beautiful, heartbreaker at the death to kill Iran’s dream.
Argentina won this match 1-0 and have secured passage to the Round of 16, but let us spare a moment to talk Iran.
Manager Carlos Quieroz was hamstrung financially, and even had difficulty finding teams for Iran to play in the countries World Cup build up. So Queiroz did what he could, turning to the Iranian diaspora to supplement his squad.
He also instilled a defensive mindset into his roster, which he knew would be outmatched talent wise by all of their World Cup opponents. That approach produced a 0-0 tie against Nigeria, a result that was celebrated in the streets of Iran.
So, expectations were low heading into Saturday’s match with Argentina. But Iran frustrated Argentina, a team fancied by many to win this World Cup being played in their neighboring nation of Brazil.
But after 45 minutes the score was 0-0. Argentina missed a couple of chances, but the team, said to have been influenced by Lionel Messi’s preference to play in a 4-3-3, had produced little of real threat. Iran had some chances of their own in the opening stanza, especially from corner kicks where Ashkan Dejagah was providing immaculate service.
Expectations that the second half would see Iran wilt under a wave of Argentine pressure would be quickly disabused on the re-start. Iran’s defense maintained their form and as Team Melli grew in confidence they began to attack from play.
Fulham’s Dejagah, one of Queiroz’s hyphenate recruits led the charge in an outstanding performance of both industry and quality. He had help from Reza Ghoochannjhad and goalkeeper Alireza Hahighi, but really all of the Iran team performed above and beyond the call.
And Argentina? A team that is/was expected to challenge for the World Cup title were unable to find a way through the packed Iran defense and may have been a goal down if Dejagah had been awarded a penalty when taken down by Pablo Zabaleta in the box.
Manchester City star Zabaleta couldn’t handle Dejagah, and the Argentine attack was impotent, but for that one moment of magic by the great Lionel Messi.
Argentina may yet grow into this World Cup, but they had better get to it quickly.
Germany and Ghana played in the Saturday’s middle game, and a comfortable German victory was expected. Maybe it is time we learn to expect anything but the expected at this World Cup.
Ghana were still smarting from their opening 2-1 loss to the U.S., a match the Ghanians felt that they should have won. But the German’s had come in flying high off of a first game 4-0 demo job of Portugal.
Naturally then Ghana gave Germany the fright of their lives. Neither team managed a goal in the first half, Ghana giving as good as they got. Germany finally got the scoring started in the 51 minute via Mario Gotze.
Conventional wisdom would see Ghana capitulate at this point, and Germany go on to win handily. Not at Brazil 2014.
Andre Ayew struck back just four minutes later with a peach of a header, and the Black Stars were on level terms.
Nine minutes later Ghana had the lead and Group B was in an uproar of confusion. Germany were expected to beat Ghana, a favorable result for the U.S. Now what?
First off, German coach Jorgi Loew went to his bench for Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger in place of Gotze and Sami Khedira. Klose checked in at the 69 minute mark, two minutes later the score was 2-2 and Klose had joined the original, Brazilian Ronaldo as the all-time leader in World Cup goals with 15, passing the legendary German poacher Gerd Muller.
Both teams had chances down the stretch, but in the end a 2-2 draw was the result. That keeps Ghana alive, and pressures the U.S. to come to play on Sunday versus Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in tropical Manaus.
Nigeria picked up a 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in the nightcap from Brazil, with Edin Dzeko slamming an added time shot off of the Nigerian goalpost.
Dzeko’s shot actually first caromed of the legs of keeper Vincent Enyeama before bouncing harmlessly off the Nigerian post. Just a minute before, Dzeko had headed a shot straight at Enyeama, and Bosnia-Herzegovina could not overcome those two late misses, ending their first World Cup after two games.
Bosnia-Herzegovina also were unable to overcome another blown offside call by World Cup officials. Dzeko hit the target in the games 20th minute, only to see his moment of glory quashed by an offside flag. Replays showed that the goal should have stood.
Peter Odemwingie scored the winner for Nigeria in the 28th minute, putting Nigeria in good position to advance to the knockout rounds.