The two teams could not have been further in reputation, Argentina being one of the favourites to challenge for the World Cup, and Iran being one of the “favourites” to get knocked out in the group stages. It was most definitely a David vs Goliath situation. But still, the match had attracted quite a lot of build up considering both the teams’ contrasting strengths. Argentina’s mighty attack versus Iran’s extremely pragmatic approach was always going to be an entertaining contest.
FORMATION & LINE-UPS
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta; Fernandez; Garay; Rojo; Mascherano; Gago; Di Maria (Biglia, 90); Messi; Aguero (Lavezzi, 77); Higuain (Palacio, 77).
Iran: Haghighi; Montazeri; Hosseini; Sadeqi; Pooladi; Nekounam; Teymourian; Shojaei (Heydari, 77); Hajsafi (R. Haghighi, 88); Dejagah (Jahanbakhsh, 85); Reza.
Scorers: Lionel Messi (90+1)
Iran at their pragmatic best
Iran came into the World Cup with the reputation of being the most “boring” team to qualify, a valid interpretation. They can be extremely frustrating to play against, but that is exactly what Coach Carlos Queiroz wants out of them. They played in an extremely compact and well drilled 4-4-1-1, and denied Argentina’s front three any real room to run into. The space between midfield and defence was almost always a close 15-20 metres, denying the opposition any space through the middle. The defensive work starts right from the attackers who drop off close to the halfway line and ensure Iran stay extremely compact .The wingers, Ashkan Dejagah snd Shojaei were extremely hard working, constantly tracking back and marking advancing full backs.
- World Cup Tactical Analysis: Argentina 2-1 Bosnia
- Analysis of Argentina’s tactical approach, set-up & formation
- Analysis of Iran’s tactical approach, set-up & formation
- Interview with South American football expert, Rupert Fryer, on the Argentine NT
- Interview with Amro Alkado, Middle East football expert
Iran as whole were glad to let Argentina have the ball and attempt to penetrate their resolute backline with the midfield often backing off without pressing in fear of leaving gaps in front of their defensive line. This was so much so that on the night Argentina enjoyed no less than 77% of the possession completing over 450 passes. But the killer pass into the final third was lacking owing to good interceptions and positional play from Iran. The crazy pass map below tells a story by itself. The “Bus” was well and truly parked.
Argentina started the game with a 4-3-3 or even at times a very Italian 4-3-1-2 ditching the back three experiment, with the Barcelona-esque style suiting talisman Leo Messi the best. Unsurprisingly just like Barcelona over the last season they struggled through the game to break down the well disciplined Iran team. Iran were so compact that at times it looked like the full backs were playing right in front of the centre backs, forcing Argentina out wide to find some space.
Argentinean full backs pushed up
As a natural consequence of Iran’s density in the central areas, Argentina were pushed out wide. Angel Di Maria and both their full backs Rojo and Zabeleta( who were essentially wing backs), constantly stationed themselves forward and attempted to cross the ball in. Despite some good crosses coming in, Aguero and Higuain barely had a sniff. Both of them are quick clever poachers, used to exploiting the space behind the defences. They were forced into a very different target man sort of role, despite both of them not being renowned for their aerial prowess. The Iranian centre backs were more than comfortable dealing with the crosses, with Jalal Hosseini in particular doing extremely well to get the ball out repeatedly. The pass map below gives you an Idea of just how much wing play was put in. Note that out of the 41 attempted crosses a measly 9 actually found it’s way onto an Argentinean head.
Pushing Leo Messi away from the box
Leo Messi, as is customary now, was always going to be Carlos Queiroz’s biggest headache.The Barcelona man was essentially playing a free role drifting in and out of a central position from the left, behind the two auxillary strikers. It was a role he is extremely comfortable with, dictating tempo and attracting defenders out to find space to run into. Having seen Messi play numerous times for club and country, there is one interesting point that comes to light on observation. Messi, when unable to receive the right service drops extremely deep. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what it does is that moves him farther and farther away from goal. Sure his passing helped in dominating the midfield, but quite simply put, he can’t score if he isn’t near the goal. Messi is known for his bursts and take on’s near the penalty box, but none of that were particularly on display. His attacking map below gives you a rough idea of his positioning, mostly always a good 30-40 yards from goal.
As a result all of his shots were from a distance, none of them on target. For 90 minutes that is.
Iranian confidence grows as the game progresses
As the game progressed in the second half, Iranian confidence grew by the minute. They began having faith in their impregnable defence and in contrast Argentina looked miserable figures on the pitch as frustration began to get to them. Gago, Di Maria and Macherano all had good games in terms of passing and possession, but none of them had the drive to burst into the box. Aguero and Higuain had particularly bad games as they struggled to make an impact and not particularly causing any real danger to the Iranian goal bar a few shots which were well saved by the impressive Haghighi. Substitutes Palacios and Lavezzi were no better.
Iran in the second half began to take advantage of the over commitment in attack of the Argentine midfield and defence, launching several quick counter attacks. In this respect Dejagah was Iran’s most impressive player, constantly bursting forward and creating chances. He had a penalty appeal turned down and was denied a goal from a diving header by a miraculous save by goalkeeper Romero
Heartbreak for Iran, Relief for Argentina
All in all it looked very positive for Iran who were on course for a historic result, even a draw would suffice to achieve that. Then, disaster struck. Lionel Messi, produced a moment of true brilliance, curling a shot from his left boot, a good 25-30 yards out. It’s a fact that when Messi took the shot, Iran had all 11 of their players behind the ball. Iranian hearts were broken as their players sunk to the ground. They gave it their absolute all for ninety minutes earning the respect of the neutral fan. Their discipline and unity was extraordinary, there was no rush of blood to the head amongst any one of the players, they played as team always covering for the man beside marking dangerous runs and making good interceptions. On another day, they would have got the point or even the three that they had fully deserved.
KEY PLAYER OF THE MATCH
It’s hard to give an individual alone the mantle of being the best player in this game where both the teams were quite equally matched, Iran letting the unity talk louder than the performance of any one individual. But for his sublime goal, it has to be Leo Messi. He was pushed deep into a supporting role, but was never giving up. His integrity and drive earned him that one moment of magic that was enough to win the game, a quality that separates the good from the great.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
Iran put in a superb effort. Credit must go to their Coach Quieroz for instilling in them the discipline and steely resolve that saw them take what many call the best attacking unit of the tournament to the very dying minutes. They have to keep their heads held high. They might still have a chance of qualifying
Argentina on the other hand were lucky to escape. For a side billed as huge favourites to win the tournament, they have been somewhat lacklustre thus far despite two victories. Other South American teams such as Costa Rica and Colombia are performing at a higher level then them. They can’t keep relying so much on the genius of Leo Messi. The others will have to start stepping up to the plate if they are to go the distance.
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