Argentina leaves it late: It just goes to show you that top teams—even ones with Lionel Messi in the starting 11—have a hard time scoring against opponents who put all 10 of their outfield players behind the ball when not in possession. Argentina will be criticized in some quarters for not being able to break down Iran until Messi scored another cracker in second-half injury time. But give credit to Iran for being so defensively organized, keeping Argentina at bay and rarely letting Messi and his cohorts get behind them. You can’t blame Iran for their ultra-defensive tactics, because had they “went for it” they would’ve been carved open by the Argentines. For over 90 minutes, they worked had to contain Argentina’s players, who did themselves few favours with their poor finishing and heavy touches in and around the box. The Iranians played it smart, as they not only frustrated Argentina with their smothering play, but they also put the odd scare into the South Americans on the counter, forcing goalkeeper Sergio Romero to make a number of crucial saves. For all of Argentina’s possession (77 percent) and out-passing of Iran (462 to 86), they only had one more shot on target. Argentina is through to the second round, thanks in large part to Messi’s moments of individual magic.
Germany is not in trouble: After steamrolling Portugal 4-0 in their opener, the Germans found the going much tougher on Saturday as they had to come from behind to salvage a hard-fought draw against Ghana. The Africans did their best to stretch the game, using their width to great effect in attack (more on that later). Down a goal, Germany called upon substitute Miroslav Klose and the veteran made an instant impact by netting the equalizer in the 71st minute to tie Ronaldo (of Brazil) as the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 15 goals. Several of Germany’s bets players didn’t look like it on the day, including Phillip Lahm, whose turnover in midfield led to a Ghana goal. Was this result a sign of Germany’s vulnerability? Hardly. Let’s remember they won their opener of the 2010 tournament and then lost to Serbia. Similar questions were asked back then, but the Germans rebounded and ending up finishing in third place. What we saw today from Ghana, and in fact throughout this competition, is that there are few easy games. The big nations have been made to work for every point they’ve earned (see Argentina over Iran, and the Netherlands over Australia), and reputations count for little (Costa Rica beating both Italy and Uruguay). Germany has four out of a possible six points, and controls its fate going into the last round of matches. Not a bad position to be in at all considering how this competition has played out so far.
Bosnia bows out: Another European team is going home early, as Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the likes of Spain and England to be eliminated after only two games. Bosnia played Argentina even in their opening loss, and was denied a clear goal by Edin Dezko in the 21st minute against Nigeria, incorrectly ruled for offside—replays showed the Manchester City man was a good yard and a half onside. Bosnia can feel aggrieved about that scandalous call, but not about the final result. Nigeria was the better side on the night, with Emmanuel Emenike running the porous Bosnian defence into the ground. Indeed, Emir Spahic was too easily powered off the ball by Emenike before he pulled a pass back for Peter Odemwingie to slot home just before the 30-minute mark. Spahic also committed a number of needless turnovers early on, and proved to be a liability for most of the match. Bosnia cut through Nigeria’s defence in the opening 15 minutes with a number of through balls played into the box, but the Dezko decision and Odemwingie’s subsequent goal seemed to knock the confidence out of them. They never recovered their composure and played desperate soccer the rest of the way, with Dzeko lashing at shots and playmaker Miralem Pjanic trying to force the issue by doing too much.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Game within the game
Ghana gave Germany’s defence fits with their attacking play and probing runs down the flanks, especially from Kwadwo Asamoah and Harrison Afful (see map below). Afful, the right fullback, was especially strong in both ends of the pitch, making six interceptions as Germany came forward, and completing more passes in the final third than any of his teammates. Asamoah, too, was involved for Ghana down the left flank early on, completing 16 of 19 passes and winning back possession six times in the opening 19 minutes.
It was a world-class strike from a world-class player that settled things between Argentina and Iran, with Messi taking a simple pass and cutting in from off the right before curving his shot around several defenders and past the Iranian goalkeeper into the far corner.
Save of the day
Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi had to a make a few saves, his finest coming in the 22nd minute when Gonzalo Higuain played the ball off to Sergio Aguero who one-timed a shot from deep inside the box. Haghighi read it perfectly, diving to push the Manchester City star’s attempt wide.
Match of the day
A pretty uneventful opening 45 minutes gave way to an exciting second half between Ghana and Germany, who combined for four goals and lots of attacking play and drama.
Best moment of the day
Javad Nekonam didn’t wait until the final whistle to try to swap shirts with Lionel Messi—the Iranian captain asked his counterpart during the handshake!
1) Sulley Muntari: A physical and creative force in midfield for Ghana, he set up Asamoah Gyan’s go-ahead goal to stun the Germans. 2) Emmanuel Emenike: The Nigerian forward used his power and strength to give Bosnia’s defence problems, and set up the winning goal. 3) Lionel Messi: Contained for most of the game, the Argentine genius left to late to stun Iran with a world-class strike in injury time.