Messi magic edges Iran


READ: As it happened

And it was none other than talisman Lionel Messi who secured the win for the Albicelesti, netting a superb long-range strike in extra time to ensure maximum points for his side.

It was a frustrating first half for the South American champions, as Iran sat back and soaked up wave after wave of Argentinean attack, sitting with ten men behind the ball and not allowing Argentina to play their natural game.

Alejandro Sabella’s men showed their intent early on as Gonzalo Higuain was played in, but his first-time shot was well-closed down by goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi, who had a busy afternoon between the sticks for Iran.

Haghighi then produced a fine diving save from a goal-bound Sergio Aguero strike, denying the two-time World Cup winners the lead.

Argentina’s best chance of the half came on 36 minutes, as Messi’s curling free-kick was met by the head of the leaping Ezequiel Garay, whose header flew narrowly over the top of the Iranian goal.

Iran were content to defend deep, as large periods of the game were played with no players in the opposition half, yet the Asians did enjoy three attempts on goal from set-pieces in the opening 45 minutes, yet none which really troubled Argentina keeper Sergio Romero.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first as marauding right-back Pablo Zabaleta curled a shot narrowly wide.

Yet Iran then signalled their attacking intent, Reza Ghoochannejhad producing a fine save from Romero as he denied a goal-bound header from the Iranian forward.

The world’s 43rd-ranked nation enjoyed a good spell of possession in the opposition half thereafter, and had the best chance of either side to find the opener when Ashkan Dejagah’s header was again prevented from finding the back of the net by Romero’s finger-tips.

Argentina then slowly piled the pressure again on the resilient Asian defence, yet were often let down by a poor final delivery into the box.

Haghighi was kept busy in the final ten minutes of the game, yet his brilliance could not prevent four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi’s shot in extra time from rippling the back of his net.

Picking up the ball from the right side of the box, Messi produced his trademark run at the opposition defence, bringing the ball onto his favoured left-foot and unleashing an unstoppable strike into the far corner as the Iranian defence was finally breached.

The extra-time strike proved to be the winner as Argentina qualify from Group F, while Iran remain third with just a point after two games.