Messi's late magic breaks resistance of brave Iran

Messi's late magic breaks resistance of brave Iran
Double up: Iran winger Ashkan Dejagah (right) helping defender Mehrdad Pooladi to keep Lionel Messi quiet, until stoppage time.

GROUP F
ARGENTINA 1
(Lionel Messi 90+1)

IRAN 0

BELO HORIZONTE - In stoppage time, one moment of magic, one moment of sublime brilliance, one moment of understated beauty lifted the ugliest of games.

Lionel Messi had contributed little. He had cut a disconsolate, peripheral figure.

But the greatest conjure great moments from nothing.

With Argentina destined for a shock draw against minnows Iran, Messi wriggled free outside the box, dropped a shoulder and waved that magic wand of a left foot, bending the ball into the bottom corner.

His adoring supporters blew the roof off the Belo Horizonte Stadium as they celebrated the most unlikely of 1-0 victories in Group F and a place in the Round of 16.

Messi had masked his country's shortcomings once again, but for how much longer?

Argentina cannot win the World Cup, not like this.

They got away with it against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the magnificent Iranians exposed their limitations this morning (Singapore time).

Alejandro Sabella's muddled men were mired in mediocrity. Their magicians lost their wands.

Apart from his late winner, Messi drifted in and out of the game like an hallucination. Angel di Maria laboured without reward. Gonzalo Higuain was anonymous.

And these guys are allegedly Argentina's kingpins, expect to carry their expectant country to glory.

But the Iranians closed shop, locked the door and left their opponents to fumble blindly for the keys.

With Holland, Germany and France lighting up the tournament, Argentina are being left in the shadows.

They better get better quickly. Patience is not a virtue among their incomparable hardcore supporters.

Argentina annexed the Belo Horizonte Stadium before kick-off. They owned the stadium. The blue and white takeover of the historic bowl-shaped football venue sent shivers down the spine.

They danced and swayed as one. The stadium rocked. In a small corner, the game Iran fans were an afterthought; silenced by their partying rivals, swallowed up by the South American spectacle.

Argentina's voices soared across the blue sky and lifted the soul. The concrete stand literally shook beneath the feet during the national anthem. It was a privilege to be present.

England's opening matches were forlorn trips to the morgue in comparison.

But Argentina's unbridled passion threatened to descend into ugly petulance.

NASTY

Cups were thrown at Brazilian fans around me as stewards ushered them to one of the few non-Argentina areas of the stadium.

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