BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil —
Lionel Messi finally found a way through Iran’s defensive wall with a superb goal in stoppage time to give Argentina a 1-0 victory on Saturday and a place in the World Cup knockout stages.
Iran had defended solidly throughout the game and also took the match to Argentina in the second half, creating several chances to win the Group F match and cause a tournament sensation.
But Iran was punished for those missed chances when Messi picked up the ball about 20 yards (meters) out and smacked a shot into the left hand corner.
”In the first half, we had four or five clear chances to score a goal and in the second half, they complicated things for us with counterattacks,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. ”But having Messi resolved everything.”
It was a moment of individual brilliance, and showed why Messi has been voted world player of the year no fewer than four times. Messi, getting a rare touch, quickly moved the ball toward his dangerous left foot and fired a curling shot just beyond the reach of the diving goalkeeper and into the left corner of the net.
”When I saw that I had scored I was very happy, because we were in added time already and wanted to qualify for the next phase,” Messi said.
Up until that point, he had been kept quiet by Iran’s stoic defending, while Argentina had at times been exposed to counterattacks.
”It was a difficult game to be honest,” Messi said. ”They were able to close up at the back, so it was difficult for us to break down the defense. It was very hot for us.”
Iran had several chances to win it, especially in the second half. The best of those opportunities came in the 67th minute, when midfielder Ashkan Dejagah’s powerful header from close range was tipped just over the bar by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
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