If Argentina were perhaps fortunate to beat Iran 1-0 with a stoppage-time goal in Belo Horizonte, a result that means La Albiceleste are through to the last 16, their luck was twofold. They might have already been behind to an Iranian team who had three good chances of their own. But mainly Argentina are simply lucky to have Lionel Messi, who afterwards described his stoppage-time winner as a “wonderful moment”.
“As soon as I got the ball at the end we were all in attack because we wanted to put Argentina through with a win,” Messi said. “Obviously I was very happy with the strike and then I heard people screaming and smiling.
“[Iran] were able to close us down at the back and it was very difficult to find space. It was very hot too. But we still had many opportunities in the first half; they had some in the second half too. Now we’re qualified for the next round and that was our objective today.”
Messi’s decisive contribution was praised by Argentina’s manager, Alejandro Sabella. “All players who played today have contributed to this victory but of course we have a genius who is called Messi,” he said. “Fortunately he is Argentine. Everybody would have liked to have Messi but it is us who have him.”
Iran deserve huge credit for a fine performance. Carlos Queiroz’s team stifled Argentina with a display of deep, aggressive defence and then made chances of their own in the second half, with Queiroz convinced his team should have had a penalty for Pablo Zabaleta’s challenge on Ashkan Dejagah. It was a marginal call that looked to the human eye to involve a saving touch of the ball.
“At the end of the day two personalities made the difference,” Queiroz said. “They got the goal because they scored, coming from the great personality Messi. A brilliant strike. But the second personality was the referee, because there was a clear penalty, a clear penalty. I’m very proud of my players but I’m very frustrated and it was a penalty.”
Sabella conceded it had been a difficult match. “I want to congratulate my team. It was a huge effort and it’s a very hot time of the day. Iran were brilliant as well. Both goalkeepers were excellent but that last strike by Lionel, not even two goalkeepers could have stopped that goal.
“Messi, I think, has been well marked. Iran had many players on him – they waited for us and they marked Messi all the time. They were fighting, they were very patient, they kept trying and they looked for goals as well. And they had two very good opportunities during the second half. Messi had to keep fighting though and in the end he got his reward.”