Messi gives Argentina 1-0 Cup win over Iran

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Messi gives Argentina 1-0 Cup win over Iran
Argentina's Rodrigo Palacio and Iran's Jalal Hosseini watch as Iran's goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi dives but allows a goal by Argentina's Lionel Messi during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina defeated Iran 1-0. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates after scoring the first goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates after scoring the first goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Iran's Mehrdad Pooladi watches as Argentina's Rodrigo Palacio hugs Argentina's Lionel Messi after their 1-0 victory over Iran during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero reacts after Lionel Messi scored his side's lone goal in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Iran during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi, right, heads the ball during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates after scoring during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's lone goal in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Iran during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Argentina's Lionel Messi acknowledges applause after scoring his side's lone goal in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Iran during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, center, celebrates after scoring his side's lone goal in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Iran during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Argentine and Iran's fans ask another spectator for the ball to during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's players celebrate after a last-minute goal by Lionel Messi during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's players celebrate after a last-minute goal by Lionel Messi during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, center, celebrates after scoring during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
An Iranian fan has his head painted in the national colours ahead of the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Iran's Mehrdad Pooladi, bottom, challenges Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, second right, is closed down during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Argentina's Angel di Maria, left shoots on goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Referee Mirolad Mazic shows a yellow card to Iran's Masoud Shojaei after he fouled Argentina's Angel di Maria during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad trips over Argentina's Javier Mascherano during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Referee Milorad Mazic from Serbia shows a yellow card to Iran's Javad Nekounam, right, during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Iran's Masoud Shojaei, bottom, challenges Argentina's Angel di Maria during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, watches as Iran's Mehrdad Pooladi takes the ball away from him during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, looses the ball against Iran's Andranik Teymourian during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Fernando Gago, left, challenges Iran's Ehsan Haji Safi during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Argentina's Javier Mascherano lands on top of Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad heads the ball at the Argentina goal past Argentina's Federico Fernandez during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Argentina's Federico Fernandez heads the ball during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Lucas Biglia, right, kicks the ball next to Iran's Javad Nekounam during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Javier Mascherano and Argentina's Ezequiel Garay (2) walks past as Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad covers his face after heading the ball at the Argentina goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain eyes the ball surrounded by Iran's defenders during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Argentina's Lionel Messi gets tangled with Iran's Andranik Teymourian during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, and Iran's Andranik Teymourian battle for the ball during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
An Argentina soccer fan watches his team's World Cup match with Iran at a live telecast inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Argentina soccer fans celebrates their team's victory over Iran after a live telecast of the World Cup match inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
An Argentina soccer fan reacts as he watches a live telecast of his team's World Cup match with Iran inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Argentina won 1-0. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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By FRANK GRIFFITHS
Associated Press

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) -- Lionel Messi finally found a way through Iran's defensive wall with a superb goal in stoppage time to give Argentina a 1-0 victory on Saturday and a place in the World Cup knockout stages.

Iran had defended solidly throughout the game and also took the match to Argentina in the second half, creating several chances to win the Group F match and cause a tournament sensation.

But Iran was punished for those missed chances when Messi picked up the ball about 20 yards (meters) out and smacked a shot into the left hand corner.

"In the first half, we had four or five clear chances to score a goal and in the second half, they complicated things for us with counterattacks," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. "But having Messi resolved everything."

It was a moment of individual brilliance, and showed why Messi has been voted world player of the year no fewer than four times. Messi, getting a rare touch, quickly moved the ball toward his dangerous left foot and fired a curling shot just beyond the reach of the diving goalkeeper and into the left corner of the net.

Up until that point, he had been kept quiet by Iran's stoic defending, while Argentina had at times been exposed to counterattacks.

Iran had several chances to win it, especially in the second half. The best of those opportunities came in the 67th minute, when midfielder Ashkan Dejagah's powerful header from close range was tipped just over the bar by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

"We know that it would be a difficult, tense match," Romero said. "Thank God I could get my hand on the ball and it didn't go in.

"Messi then rubbed his magic lamp and we won."

Earlier, lone striker Reza Ghoochannejhad's header from close range was saved by Romero after a cross from the right. He later missed a chance for a late winner when his shot was again saved by Romero.

Before the match, Iran faced criticism for its defensive tactics after a dour 0-0 draw against Nigeria. But before Messi's strike, Iranian and Brazilian fans were singing "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Iran Iran!" in recognition of the team's attempts to score a winner.

But Messi denied Iran what would have ranked as its greatest result by drawing with the former world champions.

The victory sent the pro-Argentina crowd into raptures and most of them stayed in the stands well after the match, chanting and waving scarves and flags, and watching highlights - including Messi's goal - on the big screens.

It almost looked like Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella's decision to return to an attacking lineup would backfire. In Argentina's 2-1 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Group F opener, Sabella started with a more defensive 5-3-2 lineup with only two strikers.

He then changed to a 4-3-3 formation in the second half - a system favored by Messi - and he continued with that lineup at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte. In the first half, it looked like Argentina would score at least one goal, but Iran's defense stood firm and the South Americans nearly paid for several missed chances until Messi's winner.

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Messi gives Argentina 1-0 Cup win over Iran
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