At Noon ET/9am PT today, the eyes of the world will be fixated on the Estadio Mineirao at Belo Horizonte. They will be watching Argentina vs Iran, but one man in particular will be the focus of almost all the attention. A few days ago, Lionel Messi scored his first World Cup goal in 8 years against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Maracana. He will look to add to his tally, and his already spectacular legacy, with a strong performance against an Iranian side that on paper seem to be the weakest side in the group.
His goal aside, Argentina and Messi in particular seemed very subdued in the first game, especially in the first half. The four time Ballon d’Or winner led the team in giving the ball away frequently with lethargic and purposeless runs, and Argentina as a team will need to be quicker out of the blocks against Iran, who tend to grow into games. That could mean ditching the 5-3-2 they started with initially and going straight to the 4-3-3 they applied in the second half of their tournament opener that seemed to free up space for Messi and his cohorts to work their magic. Unsung hero Angel Di Maria will be key in this game, as he was the only attacking player in the first game that played with verve and imagination for the whole 90 minutes.
That being said, the only potential weakness for Argentina would be if they went into the match with any sort of complacency. According to the FIFA World Cup betting odds, Iran has shown that they do not have any intention of being the whipping boys of Group F that everyone predicted they would be. After a somewhat shaky start, they were resilient against an uninventive Nigeria, showing a certain amount of shrewdness in their pragmatic approach to the first game. They did not lose, and now have the psychological power of a point that cannot be underestimated. Iran qualified for the tournament with a solid defensive record, albeit against admittedly weaker opposition. They have already kept a clean sheet against the African champions Nigeria, and will look to do the same against group favorites Argentina. Iran will look to be organized in defense and efficient on the counter attack, something they showed flashes of in the game against the West Africans. Properly utilizing key forward Ashkan Dejegah who was very influential in that game could be vital, as scoring first will be crucial to their chances of springing a surprise.
A win would be euphoric, but they will be satisfied with an unlikely draw, as that would mean that victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina could see them through to the second round for the first time in their history. But first they will have to survive the onslaught from an all-star Argentinian side led by Messi, arguably the greatest goalscorer of all time. As their coach Carlos Queiroz said, they will need to play beyond their limits – but even that might not be enough.