It came late in the game, but Lionel Messi still performed a stunning magic trick to prove why he’s commonly ranked as the world’s best soccer player.
The 26-year-old Argentinean footballer, a four-time Ballon d’Orwinner, finally found a way through Iran’s defensive wall with an awe-inspiring goal in stoppage time on Saturday to lead Argentina toa tense 1-0 victory, earning his team a place in the FIFA World Cup round of 16.
Iran had defended solidly throughout the game and took the match to Argentina in the second half, creating several chances to win the Group F game and cause a tournament sensation.
But Iran was punished for those missed chances when Messi picked up the ball about 20 meters out and smacked a shot into the left-hand side.
“In the first half, we had four or five clear chances to score a goal, and in the second half they complicated things for us with counterattacks,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said, “but having Messi resolved everything.”
It was another instance of Messi’s brilliance, and showed why he’s been voted world player of the year four times. Messi, getting a rare touch, quickly moved the ball toward his dangerous left foot and fired a curling shot just beyond the reach of the diving goalkeeper and into the left corner of the net.
“When I saw that I had scored I was very happy, because we were in added time already and wanted to qualify for the next phase,” Messi said.
Up until that point, he had been kept quiet by Iran’s stoic defending, while Argentina had at times been exposed to counterattacks.
“It was a difficult game to be honest,” Messi said. “They were able to close up at the back, so it was difficult for us to break down the defence. It was very hot for us.”
Iran had several chances to win it, especially in the second half. The best came in the 67th minute, when midfielder Ashkan Dejagah’s powerful header from close range was tipped just over the bar by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
“We know that it would be a difficult, tense match,” Romero said. “Thank God I could get my hand on the ball and it didn’t go in. Messi then rubbed his magic lamp and we won.”