Lionel Messi scored in stoppage-time to send Argentina through to the last 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and secure a 1-0 win over Iran in Belo Horizonte.
The battling underdogs were just two minutes away from another huge scalp in the tournament of the underdog, before their hearts were broken by a trademark effort from Messi, who sealed his country’s passage from Group F.
Alejandro Sabella’s men once again weren’t particularly at their best, but his talisman stepped up when it really mattered as he does so often for Barcelona – curling the ball into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Iran boss Carlos Queiroz said earlier in the week that he will step down from his role after the finals, and he will certainly have been impressed with the character shown by his players.
It started with their goalkeeper Alireza Haghigi, who dived at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain on 12 minutes, before denying Sergio Aguero’s wonderful bending effort soon after.
In just the second ever meeting between the teams, Argentina went close again as the first half went on. Marcos Rojo and Ezequiel Garay both headed off target from Messi set-pieces, before their opponents had their first real chance of the game on 42 minutes. Centre-half Jalal Hosseini found himself unmarked from a corner but, like Garay, headed agonisingly over the bar.
They continued their momentum after the break, with talisman Reza Ghoochanejhad heading straight at Sergio Romero following a swift counter attack from the Iranians. The Argentine keeper was called into action again 13 minutes later, diving at full stretch to tip Ashkan Dejagah’s header over the bar after the Fulham man had got across Zabaleta.
Messi then sent a free-kick into the side-netting and Angel Di Maria shot straight at Haghigi as Sabella’s men started to get frustrated.
They threw on Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi in search of the breakthrough, but it was the side ranked 38 places lower in the world that went close with five minutes remaining. Another brisk counter-attack saw Ghoochanejhad burst through before being denied once again by the in-form Romero.
But all the Iranian hard work was undone in the first minute of stoppage-time. Messi got the ball on the corner of the penalty area and cut inside before bending the ball beautifully beyond the reach of Haghigi.
Heartbreak for Queiroz’s men, who had never taken points from consecutive matches in their three previous appearances on the world’s greatest stage. They will certainly take a lot of confidence into their final game against Bosnia on Wednesday, hoping to join today’s opponents in the knockout stages for the first time.
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