Story of the game
The first half was the game that many people expected, Iran were defending very deeply and not offering any attacking threat apart from set-pieces whilst Argentina tried, and failed, to break through. The best chance of the half fell to Ezequiel Garay from a Lionel Messi free-kick, but he headed over from close range. Sergio Agüero could also have a scored, but Iran ‘keeper Alireza Haghighi pushed the Argentinian’s curling effort to safety.
The second half was a completely different game. Iran came out of their shell and offered a much more significant attacking threat, whilst remaining solid at the back. Reza Ghoochannejhad forced a fine save from Sergio Romero with a headed effort, before Iran were denied a penalty after clumsy work from Pablo Zabaleta. Following this, Messi showed a sign of things to come as he flashed a shot just past the post. A deep cross and a great header from Ashkan Dejagah sprung Romero back into action, and the Argentine ‘keeper would be called back into action to save Ghoocehannejhad’s effort late on.
With time almost out, Lionel Messi received the ball near the corner of the box, made his trademark junk onto his left-foot before curling an exquisite shot past Haghighi. It was more than Argentina deserved, and extremely harsh on an Iranian side who not only had defended resolutely with great work ethic and commitment, but they also created the better chances over the course of the match and at the very least were deserving of a point. Argentina have been tipped by many as likely finalists of the tournament, but they have really struggled in their two games so far. They can’t always rely on a piece of magic from Lionel Messi to save them, and Sabella needs to have a serious think over his personnel and tactics.
Sergio Romero – 8 – He made numerous saves throughout the second-half that kept Argentina level, and the Argentina strike force have this man to thank for saving their blushes.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6 – Not the best you’ll see from Zabaleta, the attacking phases largely ignored him and he could have given away a penalty with a very sloppy challenge.
Ezequiel Garay – 6 – Seemingly a perpetual target for Manchester United, Garay was unimpressive. He missed the easiest chance of the game and looked very frail at the back.
Federico Fernandez – 6 – Much like Garay, Fernandez was weak at centre-back and this partnership could be the reason that Argentina do not win this World Cup.
Marcos Rojo – 7 – The fullback did not always offer the best end product, but he was full of energy and delivered one fine cross to Agüero but the striker failed to get his boot in it.
Javier Mascherano – 6 – Looked short to pace when Iran countered and failed to move the ball quickly enough when Argentina had possession.
Fernando Gago – 6 – Did not offer much and failed to deliver a dominant midfield performance, at times the attack seemed disconnected from the rest of the team.
Angel Di Maria – 6 – One of Di Maria’s poorer games, he wasted several good positions and opportunities with poor decision making.
Sergio Agüero – 6 – He looked a little off-the-pace and though he had one good effort on target, I expected more from the City striker.
Lionel Messi – 8 – He didn’t have one of his best all-round performances, but he stepped up when his country needed him and was the only attacking player for Argentina who looked threatening.
Gonzalo Higuain – 5 – A particularly lethargic display, Higuain didn’t offer the movement or intelligence required to break down the sturdy Iranian defence.
Alireza Haghighi – 7 – Couldn’t do anything with the goal and made a couple of great saves. The less busy of the two ‘keepers.
Pejman Montazeri – 7 – Full of energy and desire, Montazeri was part of one of the most impressive defensive displays of the tournament.
Jalal Hosseini – 7.5 – Not only was he great defensively, but he was also a threat from set-pieces and on another day he could have scored.
Amirhossein Sadeghi – 7 – A more than competent display from the centre-back, it can’t be easy to mark Messi but he kept him quiet for most of the game.
Mehrdad Pooladi – 7 – An all-action performance, Pooladi defended resolutely and was full of running to support counter-attacks.
Masoud Shojaei – 7 – Typical of the Iranian performance, did not see much of the ball but that didn’t stop him from giving everything he had.
Andranik Teymourian – 6.5 – A little sloppy in possession, but you can’t take anything away from his sheer application.
Javad Nekounam – 7 – Pressed well and created a few counter-attacking opportunities, on another day he may well have had an assist.
Ehsan Hajsafi – 7 – Quite dangerous on Iran’s counter-attacks, he supported his striker well and ensured Iran had options when they were on the ball.
Reza Ghoochannejhad – 7.5 – He never stopped running and forced a couple of fine saves from Romero, the Charlton man was lively all match.
Ashkan Dejagah – 7.5 – Fantastic drive and commitment to the cause, he very nearly scored the opener with a header but it was tipped over, supported Ghoochannejhad well throughout.
Man of the match
After Messi’s fabulous winner it would be easy to declare him man of the match, but in truth he didn’t have the greatest of matches. My man of the match would be Sergio Romero. He kept Argentina in the game with a string of saves and without that it would not have been possible for Argentina to win this match. If Argentina’s attack don’t start firing then they will need this man to continue his good form.