As the FIFA World Cup tournament approaches the Round of 16, Argentina and Iran will continue the competition for progression out of Group F. Saturday’s game, held at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, will be crucial for both teams. A win for Argentina will ensure progression to the 2nd round. With all eyes on Argentina, many are hopeful that Lionel Messi will establish his 2014 World Cup goal-scoring streak by leading his team to victory over Iran.
Iran’s first game proved to be an underwhelming match against Nigeria. The game went down as the first scoreless match of the 2014 tournament, and Iran’s coach, Carlos Quieroz, was on the receiving end of much criticism following the 0-0 draw. Quieroz, who will leave his position as coach following this World Cup, has built an Iranian squad known for sitting deep and executing a largely defense-oriented mentality.
Argentina defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 for its inaugural 2014 World Cup match. The victory was twofold for the Argentines. Logistically, following Iran and Nigeria’s draw, Argentina’s victory set them up nicely as far as group play was concerned. Psychologically, Messi’s game-winner during the match quenched hopes that the star striker would perform well on the international stage. Feeding this desire is the anticipation of Saturday’s game against Iran and the question of whether Messi can lead Argentina to victory once again.
Iran may prove to pose some difficulty for the Argentinian offense. The Iranian squad is known for conceding very few goals against opponents, and is designed to do so while being out performed. Against Nigeria, Iran saw less than 40 percent of ball possession but was still able to forfeit markedly fewer corner kicks (2) than Nigeria (7). That said, there is hope that key strikers, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Ashkan Dejagah, will be able to create early opportunities for Iran.
The first half of the Argentina-Bosnia game saw Argentina playing an uncomfortable 5-3-2 formation. Had Bosnia not scored an own goal in the initial minute of the game, the stakes in Group F would be different. According to Rodrigo Palacio, the Argentine squad is confident that they can secure a victory against Iran. However, the question remains whether the team will steal the win as the revered Argentinian machine, or simply as the result of individual opportunities up top.
Having recovered from an ankle injury, Palacio said that he would be ready on the sidelines in the event that coach Alejandro Sabella needs him to execute a tactical change to the team’s strategy. Sabella has already changed the starting formation for Saturday’s match by reverting back to the 4-3-3 that the squad is more comfortable, and arguably more effective with.
Saturday’s match will decide definitively whether or not Argentina will advance out of group play. In the event they do, they will go up against either the 1st or 2nd-place team of Group E, where things are looking good for France and Switzerland at the moment. The main task for Argentina will be to penetrate Iran’s back line and cause problems for the team organizationally. The hope on the Argentinian side of things is that Messi will once again lead his team to victory and thereby embark upon his first ever World Cup scoring streak.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering World Cup Group F