World Cup, Day 10: Messi Saves the Day

Lionel Messi goal

Well United States fans, you can't take too deep of a breath this morning—unless you realize that yesterday's match between Germany and Ghana could have ended much worse, in which case take all the deep breaths you'd like.

In short, it took Lionel Messi's magical left foot to break the hearts of a defensively sound Iran team, Ghana came out swinging in the second half against the Germans, and Nigeria took full advantage of an incorrectly ruled offside call to move into second place in Group F.

Argentina vs. Iran

Messi Iran

For the neutral, perhaps this wasn't the most exciting game to tune into, but that all depends on what you were looking for. If you were looking for a game with plenty of goals, you weren't going to get it—unless you were looking for a lop-sided match because it would have been Argentina doing all of the scoring.

If you were looking for pace with great back-and-forth action between the sides you weren't going to get that either. But if you tuned in to see a tremendously superior offense on paper try to unlock a very sound defense, that's exactly what you got.

Here are just some of the names that made up a portion of Argentina's starters on Saturday morning: Ángel Di María, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Sergio Agüero. Messi, Higuaín, and Agüero combined for 62 goals in their respective leagues this past season, yet for 90 minutes they could not get through Iran.

Why is that? Because Iran had a game plan and executed it almost flawlessly. Whenever a team plays defensively nowadays, no matter what, fans accuse them of parking the bus. Sometimes it's true and sometimes it's not. Regardless, it was not Iran's job to just let Argentina score.

While Argentina controlled the overall possession (70%–30%), they were unable to do anything with it. They were shut down in the final third while frustratingly trying to get a ball into the back of the net. At times, they were caught out on an Iranian counter attack and had to rely on goalkeeper Sergio Romero to save them.

Iran are fiercely inferior to a side like Argentina's. They defended very well while even managing to create a few chances. They almost stole the match in the second half on two separate occasions—both on well placed headers that Romero got a finger on in order to keep it scoreless.

Then stoppage time hit, and one minute in Messi had decided he'd had enough. He had the ball in space just outside the box, moved it over to his left foot, and struck a perfect shot into the bottom left corner of the net to give his country the lead in the 91st minute. In one fell swoop he had secured an end round berth for his country while simultaneously breaking the hearts of Iran and their supporters.

There is something to be said about the art of defending. After the match people would argue, "Well at least Australia had a go; they didn't just park the bus." Or, "Switzerland tried to be aggressive against France." That's all well and good, but Australia have already been eliminated from this World Cup, despite being very competitive in both of their matches against Chile and the Netherlands.

As for the Swiss, they conceded five goals before scoring once themselves. I don't imagine that was the result they were looking for. No, for 90 minutes Iran played their hearts out and defended with all they had. In the end, Messi did what all great players should: he took it upon himself to put the game to rest. It is worth noting, however, that Argentina has looked extraordinarily underwhelming through two matches in what is arguably the easiest group in the World Cup. Good thing only results matter.

Germany vs. Ghana

Germany Ghana

Several have called this match the best of the World Cup, or at least the best half of the World Cup—referring to the second half.

Germany came into the match with total control of Group G: Even on points with the United States but holding a goal differential of +4 compared to +1. The first half was scoreless. While Ghana needed a win to really thrust themselves back into the picture, they also didn't want to play recklessly and leave themselves exposed.

Just six minutes into the second half, everything changed. Thomas Müller played a ball into the box to Mario Götze, who tapped it in to give Germany the lead in the 51st minute. Surely after opening the scoring they'd be able to settle in, right? Wrong. Ghana equalized just three minutes later when Andre Ayew went unchallenged going up for a header in the box. He made no mistake with it, giving Manuel Neuer no chance.

But they didn't stop there. Just nine minutes later Germany gave the ball away terribly in their own third and Asamoah Gyan met one-on-one with Neuer, striking it into the upper left corner of the net to give his country a 2–1 lead.

Then on came striker Miroslav Klose, the man who entered the tournament one goal shy of tying the all-time World Cup scoring record. In the 71st minute he knocked in the equalizer with his right foot off of what would have been an errant header. Just like that, the 36-year-old had tied the scoring record, but more importantly gotten his country back level.

The remaining minutes saw a flurry of chances and counters, but the scoring ended with Klose's goal. With a 2–2 draw, Germany retained their +4 goal differential and lead the group for the time being, but have not yet secured a spot in the round of 16. As for Ghana, despite how spirited they played, they only have one point to show for it. They need a whole lot of help if they are going to make it out of Group G.

Now on to you, United States and Portugal.

Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nigeria Bosnia-Horzegovina

Our final match of the day surely couldn't live up to the excitement of the previous one, but there was plenty to play for nonetheless.

Nigeria entered the match with one point after previously drawing Iran, while Bosnia-Herzegovina needed a win to get back into contention. Unfortunately for them, the opening goal of the game didn't count. Here's the kicker: it should have, and they eventually suffered for it.

In the 21st minute, a wonderful flick played to Edin Dzeko left the Manchester City striker one-on-one with Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama. Dzeko slotted it past him to give his country the lead. Or so he thought. The linesman ruled him to be offside, which is hysterical as he had a full body ahead of him. Dzeko was nowhere near being offside, but the linesman made his call.

In this World Cup alone there have been four goals wrongly disallowed due to the offside call. Mexico was on the receiving end of that twice against Cameroon, and the linesman who those calls against Mexico won't be at another World Cup game.

The Swiss had a goal against Ecuador wrongly disallowed, but fortunately they were able to win that game in the closing minutes. Bosnia-Herzegovina didn't get so lucky. After scoring once but not getting credit for it, they never scored again. Just nine minutes after the offside incident, Nigeria's Peter Odemwingie provided us with all of the scoring we'd see in this one.

Nigeria took the 1–0 victory, jumped up to second place in their group with four points, and eliminated Bosnia-Herzegovina in the process. With Iran at one point with a -1 goal differential and Nigeria at four points with a +1 goal differential, the final matches for Group F become quite interesting.

Nigeria will take on current group leader Argentina. While a win for either team would mean first place in the group, a draw works just as well for Nigeria and would see them through to the next round. Expect them to play for that; don't even for a second think they are going to open themselves up to get thrashed by Messi and company.

As for Iran, they'll be taking on Bosnia-Herzegovina, who only have pride to play for. They need to attack from the beginning and hope to win by two or three. If Nigeria were to lose, that would give them a reasonable chance to advance into the end rounds.

Until then, we wait.

Facebook By Weblizar Powered By Weblizar
More Stories