If this World Cup has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. The Iranians nearly provided another shock result being only minutes away from securing a 0-0 draw. Argentina’s talisman Lionel Messi once again scored a magical goal to get his side out of trouble. Could this be Messi’s year?
Here are my 4 observations from the Argentina-Iran game:
1. Possession is overrated
A theme that’s developing in this World Cup is the willingness of teams to forego possession in order to strike quickly. Argentina had 77% of the ball and though they did create a few opportunities most of the possession was sterile as a well-drilled Iranian side gave them no time to breathe.
Indeed apart from Marcos Rojo there was no real threat from the other Argentine players and it took a wonder goal from a four time Ballon D’or winner to dig his side out of a hole and spare them potential embarrassment.
2. Messi on the road to greatness?
Many would argue that he’s already one of the greatest players to have graced the game and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. However the parallels between him and Maradona in 1986 will only grow and grow if Messi continues to pull results out of the bag for an under performing Argentina side. It is said that the mark of a championship-winning outfit is to win when playing badly. However it was hard to see who else but Messi could have won the game in that fashion for Argentina. If Messi does lead Argentina to glory in Brazil then he’d almost certainly surpass Maradona’s achievement and could set himself apart as the greatest player that football has ever seen.
There have been rumours that all is not well in the Albiceleste camp between Messi and coach Alejandro Sabella. Suggestions of a rift surfaced after Messi voiced his concern about Argentina’s tactics in the first half of the game against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sabella played down any talk of a split between himself and Messi. For fans of Argentina they must hope that it is nothing more than scurrilous rumor mongering, as they do not want anything destabilizing the World Cup campaign.
3. The Iranian tactics were not pretty…
But it certainly was effective. Former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Quieroz prepared his side superbly. Deploying a 4-5-1 formation the Iranians were happy for the Argentineans to keep the ball as long as the game was being played in front of them. The Iranians sat deep but the moment Argentina ventured into the their half the men in red quickly pressed and allowed their more illustrious counterparts no time on the ball. Once they won the ball the Iranians looked to attack quickly and directly, a feature of teams this World Cup.
Their discipline and shape were fantastic, Alireza Haghighi made the requisite saves when required and the players were confident in their ability on the ball to dribble around their Argentine opposition in order to keep possession. They also had a few good opportunities to score. Dejagah had a header saved by Sergio Romero with the stopper also denying Reza Ghoochannejhad twice.
That it took a Lionel Messi special to deny the Iranians a much-deserved point will be of no consolation for Carlos Quieroz’s men but one cannot deny that the men in red performed fantastically well.
4. “But I got the ball ref!”
Iran was denied a cast iron penalty in the 54th minute when Pablo Zabaleta brought down Ashkan Dejagah. The Manchester City man slid in as Dejagah was nipping ahead of him. Zabaleta got the slightest of touches on the ball but clearly took out the man. The usual refrain from the offending player is that they ‘got the ball’ however in those circumstances slight contact with the ball does not excuse taking out the man. The referee, who perhaps wasn’t in the best of positions to judge, did the Iranians no favour and as it turned out denied the Asian football giants a shot at a famous result.
5. The Iranians have shown us they can defend
Now they will need to demonstrate that they are clinical in front of goal too. After securing a 0-0 draw with Nigeria and nearly achieving the same result against Argentina, Carlos Queiroz’s side is in with a chance of qualifying for the knock out stages. But to do that Iran will have to abandon their defensive strategy and play a more expansive game. Whilst they demonstrated an attacking threat against Argentina, Iran will need to score and win against Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to progress.
Can the Iranian’s attack whilst keeping their defensive resilience or will opening up be too alien to their sensibilities and leave them vulnerable?