It was another thrilling day of World Cup action yesterday, even though only six goals were scored in three games.
Iran had no chance against Argentina. Everyone knew that coming in. If manager Carlos Quieroz were honest, he would have said that he hoped to keep it under five or six goals. Argentina had the big names, the big pedigree, the big support, and one of the best players in the world. We all knew how this would go. Until we didn't.
The match started as we would have expected, with the South Americans absolutely dominating possession. Yet, something wasn't right. Argentina weren't really creating chances. And Iran were working really hard. It was almost as if no one had told them they had no chance.
Alireza Haghighi, Iran's goalkeeper, would have expected to be busy, but in truth, he was not. He made a save or two, and needed to rush off his line once in a while, but Argentina was not laying siege to his goal. And most surprising of all, in the few instances were they attacked, The men from central Asia actually looked dangerous.
About 5 minutes into the second half the Argentines won a corner, and had two shots from the ensuing play. The shots weren't particularly close, but they gave one the idea that the better side would finally take control. After all, they had racked up nearly 80% of possession. But that is not what happened. Instead, Iran went on the counter.
Pejman Montazeri lead the counter, and he put in a very good cross from the right side. Reza Ghoochanneijhad was in the box, and he hit a very good header, forcing a save from Sergio Romero.
Then Lionel Messi made a run and put a shot just wide. Then Angel Di Maria put in another cross. Then Argentina got the ball back and did it all again. Still no goals. Still no end-product. Iran's players just kept on tackling, kept on closing down, kept on clearing the danger. Around the 64th minute Iran won a corner. And they looked a threat to score. Then they won another corner. There was a scrum in the penalty box and the favorites barely managed to clear it. What was going on?
Montazeri put in another cross and it almost turned the world on it's head. It was perfect. Ashkan Dejagah met it near the penalty spot and looped a beautiful header, Robin van Persie-style, towards the goal. Romero looked beat, but he leaped up and miraculously got the edge of a finger on it, tipping it over the bar with no room to spare. Had Iran missed their chance?
The work rate of the Iranian players was incomprehensible. Former Bolton Wanderer Andranik Teymourian covered every blade of grass. Could they really keep this up? The men in blue and white brought on more world-class talent from the bench.
It was the 86th minute when another Argentine attack fizzled, about the 200th time that had happened. In his own half, on the left side, Alizera Jahanbakhsh had a little bit of space. He managed to look up and see Reza running up the middle of the pitch, and he played a ball over the top. It was a perfect ball, and suddenly, the striker for AS Roma was bearing down on Romero. At the last moment, just as he hit the shot, the challenge came in. Javier Mascherano, the only player in the Argentina midfield who seemed to care about defensive responsibilities, put just enough pressure to force Reza to hit the shot one second before he wanted to. It was on target, and Romero ended up making good save, but Mascherano had saved the day. However, Javier Mascherano is not a genius.
A minute into added extra time, when Iran's job seemed almost done, when an entire country seemed ready to press the panic button, when Ayatollah's were ready to pop champagne, the diminutive genius got the ball on the right. He took a touch that brought him away from one defender and across another. A space appeared. A tiny space. Something that most people with a ball at their feet wouldn't even consider a space. He pulled his foot back, almost imperceptibly, and hot through the ball at an angle. The ball curved. The ball dipped. The ball rushed past the keepers stretched fingertips.
Iran had the drive. Iran had the passion. Iran had the work rate. Argentina had the genius.
Full Time: Argentina 1-0 Iran
MOTM: Ashkan Dejagah
There were some parallels between the two early matches today. Germany, like Argentina, were heavy favorites. Germany had an obvious advantage in talent, pedigree, experience, and tactics. Ghana, on the other hand, are not Iran. They got to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup, have been to the semifinals of the last two African Nations Cups, and have loads of players in the biggest leagues in the world, many of them at massive clubs. They also had their backs against the wall after a last second loss to the United States in their first match.
The first half of this match was little dull, to be honest. There were a few chances created, a couple of nice moments, but neither side really seemed to be on their game. It was 0-0 at halftime, and that was probably reflective of events in the pitch.
The second half was much better, right from the start. Both teams came out with a much more attacking mindset. It was clear this would be an end-to-end 45 minutes. The festivities really got going in the 51st minute. Thomas Müller found some space on the right and put in a brilliant cross. He scored a hat trick in Germany's first match and was anxious to create for his teammates in this one. Mario Götze made a really smart run through the middle of the 18-yard box and put the ball into the back of the net. It was an ugly finish. He tried to head it, but misjudged the height and hit it straight down. The ball bounced off his knee and straight into the goal. No doubt, he'll take it, but it won't be going on the highlight reel.
Many probably expected Germany to get their tails up and blow the African side away after the first goal. The opposite happened. The team in white enjoyed the lead for all of three minutes.
Harrison Afful found himself in space on the right side and looked up towards the penalty box. He saw three of his teammates lined up and ready to attack, all matched up one-on-one with a German. Perhaps he knew that Germany's gigantic right back (and his countryman's brother) Jerome Boateng had gone off injured at halftime. Afful sent a high, arcing cross to the back post, where André Ayew leapt over Shkodran Mustaphi and headed home the equalizer. Certainly Germany would respond to this upstart's delusions of grandeur. After all, this was a side that had just lost the USA of all countries.
Germany's response was delayed a bit in the 64th minute. This was when Sully Muntari played a through ball to Asamoah Gyan, who easily beat his man and decisively finished with a curling shot past Germany's helpless keeper. All of a sudden Ghana were up 2-1, and Group G, much like the German defense, was in chaos.
German manager Joachim Lowe has options for this sort of situation, options that most other sides do not possess. Lowe made two substitutions once his side went behind. The first was Bastian Schweinsteiger. He was one of the best players on the pitch in the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, not to mention for Bayern Munich. The second sub was Miroslav Klose. He jogged onto the pitch one goal behind Ronaldo for the all-time record of goals scored at the World Cup.
Less than two minute safer entering the match, Klose was tied with Ronaldo. He tape din a ball that had been headed forward from a corner kick. It was a poacher's goal, and it was an encapsulation of Klose's career. 2-2.
The game petered out a bit in the last few minutes. It had been end-to-end in intense heat and humidity. The players were just wrecked. A few chances were created, but no one had the energy to do much about it.
Germany still control their own destiny. Ghana still need help. Portugal can be right back in rime position with a win tomorrow. And the USA? Well, the USA can put themselves in the knockout stages with a victory over Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
Full Time: Germany 2-2 Ghana
51 - Götze 54 - Ayew
71 - Klose 63 - Gyan
MOTM: Sully Muntari
Nigeria beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in the day's final match. If you are inclined to pay attention, you will hear a lot about the referee's assistant in this match. You see, just a few minutes in to the match Bosnia and Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko had the ball in the back of the net. The goal was disallowed for offside, although replays clearly showed that Djeko had been onside when the through ball that led to the goal was played. This is unfortunate, and had real world consequences, as today's result eliminated the Bosnians from the World Cup. I will point out that I, sitting roughly 6000 miles away in my living room, knew before play resumed that Dzeko had been onside, and the goal should have counted.
In the 29th minute, Nigerian Emmanuel Emenike played a ball ahead of himself and tried to run onto it. Emir Spahic was defending, and was clearly being outpaced by Emenike. In desperation, Spahic tried to elbow the midfielder. He missed, and fell down. This left Emenike in loads of space. He took advantage, playing a good ball in to Peter Odemwingie, who finished for the first and only goal of the match. Bosnia tried to claim that Spahic had been fouled. Truth is, Bosnia's performance was underwhelming. Dzeko had one more chance late in the second half, and Nigeria's keeper made a great save.
This was a brilliant victory for Nigeria, and their first in a World Cup since 1998. They sit in second place in their group, and go into the third match against already qualified Argentina as heavy favorites to go through.
Full Time: Nigeria 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina
29 - Odemwingie
MOTM: Emmanuel Emenike