Lionel Messi presses RB+B to advance a largely unconvincing Argentina into the knockout round.
Argentina needing last-minute heroics against Iran sounds strange, but that's how it goes after the illicit deal Sepp Blatter must have made with the football gods to enforce this tournament's absolute insanity. Looking at the possibility of a disappointing scoreless draw, Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the right wing and brought to life the classic and reliable FIFA finesse shot.
Messi's second goal of the tournament and the 1-0 victory places Argentina in the knockout rounds with a game to spare, but their performance against Iran won't inspire a ton of confidence outside of the goal. Despite placing Gonzalo Higuain in the starting lineup, the attack-minded Argentines found it difficult to break down the defense of Iran. Only four of Argentina's 21 shots were on frame, and it took the wonderful Messi finish to finally beat Iranian keeper Alireza Haghighi.
In terms of the Iranian attack, the few times they ventured forward brought some legitimate opportunities. Their best scoring chance came when Ashkan Dejagah forced Sergio Romero into a fingertip save in the 67th minute. The Iranians also had a penalty shout on Pablo Zabaleta denied by referee Milorad Mazic.
Ghana impress but cannot secure the victory.
For United States fans, it's hard to watch this Ghana team with a truly objective point of view, but their second half in the 2-2 draw with Germany was, for my money, the best half of football on display in a tournament filled with great moments. Considered an underdog, the Black Stars acted like anything but and even outplayed the Germans for stretches of the match.
Although Ghana displayed some of the same wastefulness from the U.S. game in spots--the botched three-on-two break late in the second half immediately comes to mind--the Black Stars posses an uncanny ability to turn the game in an instant. Take, for example, the 63rd-minute Asamoah Gyan goal that made the game 2-1. From the time Sulley Muntari stepped forward to intercept a pass meant for Sami Khedira to Gyan's shot hitting the net, only six seconds had ticked off the clock.
The Black Stars were a bit unlucky to lose their opening match, and their rebound performance against Germany on Saturday further proved the Black Stars could cause some serious damage in this tournament--if given the opportunity. Whether or not they will play a further role depends on what the U.S. do against Portugal on Sunday, and, of course, the results on the final day. Ghana have been a neutral fan's dream so far in this World Cup, and their one point thus far does not say quite enough about how well they have shown up in Brazil.
Germany stall after opening match domination.
Through Miroslav Klose's record-tying 15th career World Cup goal, the Germans leveled the game with Ghana, but they were unable to find a third. The draw means Jogi Löw's players find themselves on top of Group G with four points, but they will be unable to secure a knockout round place until their final match day.
While it's tempting to reverse course on the post-Portugal evaluations of the Germans, it appears the 2-2 is more indicative of Ghana's quality than any major shortcoming for Germany. Some questions remain, particularly with the lack of depth at fullback, but it's not as though the Germans lost their immense quality in the span of five days.
Also, a question for the comments: If you were Löw, what would your current XI look like? Genuinely curious to see some responses on that, as this team has the quality and depth to do a lot of different things.
Bye, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our dear friend Edin Dzeko and his Bosnia and Herezgovina team were eliminated in the late game after a 1-0 loss to Nigeria. The Super Eagles were able to ride Peter Odemwingie's first-half goal all the way to their first World Cup win since defeating Spain in 1998.
Dzeko's eight shots led all players, but aside from having a goal incorrectly disallowed for offside in the first half, he was unable to find the net. Aside from the disallowed goal, Dzeko came closest when Vincent Enyeama was able to redirect his shot off the post in the game's final seconds. After the loss, the striker joins David Silva, Joe Hart, and James Milner as part of the already-eliminated contingent of City players.
As always, Edin, the USMNT will gladly accept you on loan for the remainder of their games.
A look ahead to Sunday
Day 11 begins with the second game for the teams in Group H. First, Belgium and City captain Vincent Kompany play Russia in Rio, with both sides looking to seize control of a tight Group H. The Belgians were the only team in the group to secure a victory in the first game, and another here assures a spot in the round of 16. South Korea and Algeria will follow from Porto Alegre in Sunday's second game.
After the back-to-back Group H games, Portugal and the United States close Sunday as the final teams to play their second group game. Also, be prepared for constant reminders of the United States' 2002 victory over the Portuguese, as inconsequential as that result may be to the current teams.
Despite the Internet rumor mill's best efforts to prematurely end his tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo will start on Sunday against the U.S., and his mere presence has to worry an American team that barely scraped by Ghana. Portugal will, however, be missing Pepe (suspended for a typical Pepe moment), Fábio Coentrão, and Hugo Almeida against the U.S. For the Americans, Jozy Altidore's hamstring injury forces Jurgen Klinsmann to replace the Sunderland striker, either through a formation change or replacing Altidore with a backup striker.
The Americans have the chance to become Group G's first knockout round representative with a victory over Portugal, a team desperate for some points to correct the disastrous opening game against Germany.