The fate of Argentina in Group F of the FIFA World Cup is set following the match against Iran today. Argentina can plan on meeting the 2nd place team of Group E in the Round of 16 next Tuesday. Today’s win came after a grueling game of missed opportunities for Argentina, who relied on Lionel Messi to nab the game-winning goal. After the match, Iran’s coach pointed to two figures in connection with his team’s 1-0 loss: the referee and Messi.
The Iranian squad has made a name for itself by being a defense machine. A migraine for any team’s offense, the Iranian’s defensive strategy had served them well in group play until today. Despite the loss, Iran’s defense was able to expose Argentina’s inability to cope with a well-organized defensive opponent.
Argentina claimed almost 70 percent of the ball possession, and had a total of 19 shots. What you would expect out of a machine like Argentina is that they would be able to get at least half of those shots on goal, however that was not the case. Indeed, Argentina seemed to be having a difficult time breaching the defensive barriers that Iran had set up.
Iran had 10 players behind the ball at all times. In the event of a turnover, the three nearest Iranian players immediately took steps to close down the space around the ball. There were times when Iran had dangerous opportunities up top, some of which were arguably of a much better quality than the Argentinian chances. One instance in particular had Iran’s coach, Carlos Queiroz, fuming after midfielder Ashkan Dejagah did not receive a penalty kick in the box in the 54th minute.
Dejagah was taken down in the box by Argentinian defender Pablo Zabaleta as he tried to clear the ball out of the danger zone. Though Zabaleta made full contact with the ball, Dejagah and Queiroz were adamant that enough contact was made with the Iranian midfielder to warrant a penalty kick. The absence of a call led Queiroz to stake blame on the game’s outcome on the referee.
In the 91st minute, Messi gave Argentina reason to celebrate by scoring a phenomenal goal from outside the box. The left-footed strike only saw side netting, making it nearly impossible for even the best of goalkeepers to stop. Accurately dubbed Argentina’s “floatation device,” Messi has initiated a World Cup scoring streak.
It is not always considered sportsmanlike to criticize the referee, however Queiroz wasted no time in doing so. After the game the Iranian coach stated that there were “two personalities” in the game that made the difference. “The number one was the referee, the second was Lionel Messi,” Queiroz finished.
Queiroz was right. Lionel Messi made all the difference in the World Cup game between Argentina and Iran. Messi is a crutch that Argentina should not be relying upon solely, but nonetheless the star of the team. On the second front, the issue of whether or not the referee made the right call is still up for debate. What remains certain, however, is that Iran gave a valiant effort against the Group F leaders, and should walk away with the respect of having fought a great fight.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering World Cup Group F
Observation by author
Guardian Liberty Voice