Since Costa Rica continued their remarkable World Cup, defeating their second former winner Italy to toss England out of tournament before even meeting them on the pitch, Three Lion’s fans can at least enjoy the remaining games without the stress and upset that comes with supporting perennial underachievers. Envious eyes will have been glaring hatefully at the French; the old enemy were hardly favourites heading into Brazil, but have set about hammering every side in their path, a bitter pill to swallow for many English fans. Little solace can be found in watching Argentina either. If any English fans were hoping that the South American side might suffer some penance for the Hand of God in Brazil, they will have been sorely disappointed thanks largely to another small genius.
Having struggled to overcome Bosnia in their first match, Argentina were no more convincing second time out against Iran. Their opening fixture against Nigeria may have been tedious, but what it did let the world know was that Iran were not going to live up to their billing as Group F whipping boys and that they would not be easy to beat. Carlos Quieroz has done an excellent job rebuilding his reputation in Tehran, having to battle for over a year to clear his name after allegations were made by the Portuguese FA that he had interfered with drug testing during his tenure as national team coach. Sir Alex Fergurson’ former assistant and Real Madrid manager has overseen a turnaround whilst in charge of Iran, picking several foreign born players and forming a well drilled outfit. Their rigid formation and stern defending frustrated Argentina for much of the match, indeed Iran could even have taken the lead when Charlton striker and Iran’s top goal scorer in qualifying, Raza Ghoochanneijhad saw his headed effort saved by an excellent Romero.
Having controlled over 70% possession and recording 21 shots, Sabella’s men appeared dominant, but in fact only managed to hit the intended target with 4 of their 21 shots. Iran put in a valiant performance in defence, racking up 43 clearances, 17 blocks and winning 16 tackles to continually frustrate the Argentinians. Such a remarkable defensive performance looked to have earned Iran a well-deserved point in what would have been a huge upset. That man Leonel Messi though had other ideas.
He had already threatened Iran twice going close, first with a free kick and then firing wide from distance after a fine run. The Barcelona man did eventually break the deadlock, curling a marvellous effort from the edge of the area past Haghighiin in the 91st minute. It was always going to take a goal of such quality to beat Haghighi, who had already saved brilliantly from Higuain and Sergio Aguero. Messi has not had the best season of his career, and thus far has not dominated the World Cup as many expected, but even so has twice come up big for his side when it counted, ensuring Argentina have now claimed 6 points from their first 2 games.
Iran can have every right to feel aggrieved however, even their brave performance aside. Ashkan Dejagah had, along with Reza Ghoochanneijhad been a threat Argentina all game, often having the beating of Pablo Zabaleta and had a strong penalty claim turned down by referee Milorad Mazic. Had that penalty been given, the day might have ended in celebration for Iran, although Fulham winger Dejagah can also look back on a saved headed chance as another opportunity to win Iran a point, or even all 3.
The day’s late kick off featured the other match from Group F between Bosnia and Nigeria. World Cup debutants Bosnaia knew that they needed a win to progress in the competition and attacked with intent in the early stages, Miralem Pjanic in particular causing the Nigerian defence problems. The Bosnian pressure eventually paid dividends, Edin Dzeko latching onto the excellent Pjanic’s pass to steer home. The effort was wrongly overruled however, and it was Bosnia who soon found themselves behind. Their attacking intent whilst admirable, it did regularly leave Bosnia looking exposed at the back. John Obi Mikel and Peter Odemwingie had both gone close in the game’s opening stages, and it was the Stoke man who then put Nigeria ahead. Emenike made a strong run down the right on another counter, and it was his pass that assisted his compatriot. It was somewhat of a redemptive moment for Odemwingie who has only recently returned to the Nigerian fold following a two year absence due to a falling out with Coach Stephen Keshi.
Bosnia continued to press in the second half, Pjanic pulling all the strings in midfield, but strikers Dzeko and Ibisevic were both guilty of spurning opportunities. Ibisevic, who had come off the bench to score against Argentina, had an excellent opportunity to repeat that feat last night, but could only see a cross wide whilst in space in the box. Dzeko squandered several opportunities after seeing his goal overruled, but could have earned Bosnia back a point late on, but scuffed his shot and the effort was turned onto the post by goalkeeper Enyeama. For all the Bosnian pressure, Nigeria did continue to threaten on the break, Emenike in particular a threat.
It was a good evening for the World Cup’s African sides, who had prior to Nigeria’s win yesterday, had very much underwhelmed. Ghana though followed Nigeria’s lead with a more than credible performance against overwhelming favourites. The Ghanaians knew that they needed a result to keep hopes of progressing in the World Cup alive after a disappointing opening loss to the USA and started very brightly, putting Germany on the back foot with both Atsu and Muntari stinging Neur’s palms from distance.
Germany did soon settle into the match though, asserting their passing game, controlling possession before finally taking the lead shortly after half time, Gotze heading home somewhat fortuitously via a deflection off of his own knee, after Afful missed his interception. Falling behind seemed to the inspiration Ghana needed, and they roared back to life, immediately pegging Germany back with an Andre Ayew header. Leading up to the game, a German newspaper had published a man for man comparison and came to the conclusion that Germany were better than Ghana in every position. On paper, it is very difficult to argue a case for Ghana matching Germany, but the 11-0 verdict hinted at an arrogant complacency in the Germna camp. Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus in particular would likely take umbrage with the implication that makeshift left back Howedes was better than him. Indeed both German full backs struggled all match to deal with the power and pace of the Ghanaian wingers, the Africans even taking the lead in the 63rd minute, Asamoah Gyan scampering past the challenge of Hummels, latching on to a through ball to power his side ahead.
Germany though are old World Cup hands, and quickly drew level through veteran Lazio striker Miroslav Klose. The goal saw Klose draw level with Ronaldo’s 15 World Cup final goals, tapping home after Per Mertesacker headed on a German corner. Klose is now part of an illustrious group of players to have scored in four different World Cups, along with Pele and Uwe Seeler. Klose really should have broken Ronaldo’s record later in the match, but fired wide. The match finished level, which was probably a fair result, although Ghana will no doubt look back on an effort by Jordan Ayew, who opted to shoot, when squaring the ball would have almost certainly put his side 3-1 up and probably see the Africans go on to win the match.
What’s the significance?
Despite being a very respectful result against a German side that had demolished Portugal in their previous game, Ghana still face a real challenge to qualify having already lost to the USA. The Africans must now hope that the USA are beaten by Germany and Portugal, before going on to beat Ronaldo and co themselves, to progress out of Group G. With both Portugal and the USA both still able to qualify, Ghana face a real uphill battle to finish 2nd.
Group F is more clean cut, with Iran needing to beat Bosnia and hope Nigeria lose to Argentina in order to snatch 2nd place from the Africans. World Cup debutants Bosnia are now out of the competition, and will be disappointed to have not done better in what was a very open group.
Lionel Messi’s excellent late strike was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, although Asamoah Gyan’s goal must also receive a special mention, not just for its quality, but also for an entertaining group dance celebration.
Having been the bright spark for his team against stubborn opposition, eventually winning the match late on, it is impossible not to mention Lionel Messi as amongst the day’s best players; his 40th goal for Argentina one of real quality. The whole Iranian back five also deserve credit just for stifling what is arguably the world’s best attack for over 90 minutes. The star performer of the day though was Miralem Pjanic, who was at his creative best for Bosnia all match, and must be frustrated that his strikers couldn’t convert any of the many chances he created.