Belo Horizonte, Brazil (4E Sports) – Lionel Messi’s scoring strike in stoppage time lifted Argentina to a 1-0 triumph over a determined Iran side in their World Cup Group F clash Saturday at Estadio Mineirao.
Messi stepped up when it mattered most for Argentina, curling home brilliantly into the corner to give the South Americans a place in the last 16 with six points from two wins.
Iran will head into its final group game with Bosnia-Herzegovina Wednesday reflecting on another missed opportunity. The Iranians have never gone beyond the first round of the World Cup in three past appearances.
Argentina dictated the opening stages without creating any clear-cut scoring opportunities against an Iran defense that displayed the same determination against Nigeria.
Gonzalo Higuain was the first to test the Iran backline after 13 minutes, but goalkeeper Alireza Haghigi was there to block the Napoli striker’s effort.
Higuain linked up with Sergio Aguero inside the area but Haghigi’s fine diving kept the Argentines from scoring.
Iran also had several scoring chances in the first half, the best of which came after 41 minutes as center-back Jalal Hosseini turned Ashkan Dejagah’s corner narrowly wide of the post.
Pablo Zabaleta went close from the edge of the area in the opening stages of the second half, but it was Iran who continued to look more threatening.
The Iranians had a chance to take the lead in the 53rd minute but forward Reza Ghoochannejhad’s header missed the target amid Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero’s tight defense.
Iran felt it should have been awarded a penalty a minute later after Zabaleta appeared to bring down Dejagah, with replays suggesting that the South Americans had been given a let-off.
With time running out, Romero was called into action to tip Dejagah’s header over while Iran had an even better scoring chance but Ghoochannejhad’s attempt missed the target.