Lionel Messi rescued Argentina from a dubious result, scoring the winner in injury time to earn La Albiceleste a 1-0 victory over an inspired Iranian side on Saturday at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Before then, both teams looked resigned to a scoreless draw, as Iran frustrated Argentina with its tight defensive wall.
But the Argentine wonder created a goal out of thin air in the 91st minute, the second match-winning goal in as many games for Messi.
Argentina was staring a draw in the face and heavy criticism back home before Messi's beautiful winner. One minute into injury time, Messi fired a shot from outside the box that managed to find its way through a maze of Iranian defenders and into the corner past diving goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
Man of the match
Lionel Messi. Who else? He's quickly erasing the label of not coming through for his country at the World Cup. If his teammates can find their form as well, Argentina could see itself in the final.
It was a good day for...
Seeing how many people could fit into the 16-yard box. There were more than a dozen men in the Iranian penalty box any time there was an Argentina attack. Sardine cans have more room.
It was a bad day for...
Anything resembling flowing football. Iran didn't hide what it was going to do against Argentina. It was up to La Albiceleste to break through the wall. They couldn't, lacking creativity in the final third and desperately needing someone to come through. Cue Messi.
Messi's goal in the 91st minute is the latest goal ever scored by Argentina in a match at the World Cup.
What this means
Argentina. Thanks to Messi's strike, Argentina has now qualified for the Round of 16. A draw would be enough against Nigeria on Wednesday (CBC TV, CBC.ca/fifaworldcup, Noon ET) for La Albiceleste to win Group F. But they won't be pleased with their first two efforts at the World Cup, and better showings are needed from star-laden Argentina if the side is to break through in Brazil.
Iran. The Iranians fought hard and were mere minutes away from an historic result before Messi's strike. They'll be disappointed that they didn't get anything out of this match, but they still have a chance to qualify for the Round of 16. The problem is Iran faces a tough Bosnia-Herzegovina side in its final match on Wednesday (CBC TV, cbc.ca/fifaworldcup, Noon ET), where a win is needed for the Iranians to have a shot.
They said it
"If we analyze both matches we might say we can play better. But as we go along in the tournament we will be improving and we will reach our full potential." — Lionel Messi
"My final decision in the last five minutes was to put two strikers on the pitch, I wanted to win the game. We needed to take risks and gamble, but when you have Messi, at any moment he can make the difference.” — Iran manager Carlos Queiroz