With 90 minutes gone, the Bela Horizonte stadium was rocked by a cauldron of screaming fans draped in blue in white in the 92nd minute of the match between Argentina and Iran. Lionel Messi sent a rocket into the corner of the net from 20 yards out, losing a couple of defenders in red before rifling in a shot with his sublime left foot. Carlos Queiroz’s side was left ruing a performance that would have left all teams in Group F with a chance at progressing through to the knockout stages.
Moments before, it felt like the Argentine team just weren’t clicking. when another one of Messi’s incisive through passes was unable to be controlled by substitute Rodrigo Palacio. Instead, for all of their collective dynamism, one moment of individual skill was what turned this match on its head, as Argentina won 1-0.
Recently, Spain’s Juan Mata told The Guardian that Spain, who had come under criticism for playing a one dimensional style of football, do in fact have a Plan ‘B’–it’s just that Plan ‘A’ is more satisfying. Today’s Argentinian side features a forward side that play their club football for Spain’s most glamorous clubs–Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, and the four-time World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, who all seem to be laboring with a little bit of that Spanish stubbornness only to be met with Persian pragmatism. It seemed like Argentina would never find their Plan B until Messi took the game on his shoulders with that shot from outside the box.
With Iran coming into the game firmly aware of the attacking flair and technical prowess that dons this sublime Argentina side, they set up to stifle the middle of the park and restrain Argentina. Yet time and time again, Argentina continued to try to work the ball through the center of the pitch to make their mark only to be met by red shirts. At any given moment, nine shirts stood in the box between the goal and the Argentines in possession, leaving Argentina bereft of ideas, unable to pick the lock and break through the Iranian defense. It almost felt as if Iran was playing a sort of 8-1-1 formation, parking the bus in front of the Argentine attack and releasing quickly through the pace of two dynamic forward players in Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad. Surprisingly, it was Iran who had the more compelling of chances, and they leave the Bela Horizonte Stadium feeling like they should be leaving with at least a point.