World Cup 2014: Argentina praise 'genius' Lionel Messi

Argentina's Lionel Messi

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella called Lionel Messi "a genius" after his stoppage-time goal beat Iran and put his side into the knockout phase.

Iran had frustrated Argentina with a solid defensive display until Barcelona forward Messi curled in his second goal of the World Cup.

"We have a genius who is called Messi and fortunately he is Argentine," said Sabella.

"Iran made life hard for us but with Messi, everything is possible."

Messi had scored just once in eight World Cup finals appearances before this tournament, and ended an eight-year wait for a goal in the opening 2-1 win over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Lionel Messi strike doubles Argentina lead

Again the 26-year-old was not at his best but found space in the 91st minute to bend a brilliant left-footed strike into the far corner, his 40th goal for his country.

"There are many things we have to think about and improve," said former Sheffield United and Leeds player Sabella, 59. "In the first half, Iran had four or five clear chances to score.

"All players who played today have contributed to this victory but of course we have a genius who is called Messi. Not even two goalkeepers could have stopped that Lionel shot."

Two-time World Cup winners Argentina were strong favourites to beat Iran but Sabella's side struggled to create chances.

In fact, Iran had the two best openings, with Charlton's Reza Ghoochannejhad and Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah forcing Sergio Romero into flying saves.

Lionel Messi scores
Lionel Messi has scored eight goals in his last seven Argentina appearances

And Dejagah was adamant that he should have had a penalty after tumbling under a Pablo Zabaleta challenge.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said: "At the end, two personalities in the game made the difference. The number one was the referee. The second was Lionel Messi.

"I hope they don't punish me, but I'm telling the truth: it was a penalty.

"It should have been a penalty and red card. There's no excuse. There's nothing that can explain [why] this Serbian referee [did] not give the penalty.

"How can this guy sleep tonight, or for the rest of his life? With all respect, I would like to have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with him. Why did he do that to us?"

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised the effort of Queiroz's team, who can still qualify from Group F.

"The passionate youth of the Islamic Iran have shown their determination and capabilities to the world again," he said in a statement.

"I would like to thank the assiduous players of the national team and coaching team who delighted the hearts of the nation and surprised everyone with their fair and enthusiastic play against the national football team of Argentina."

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As It Stood

A

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Brazil21103124
2Mexico21101014
3Croatia21015323
4Cameroon200205-50

B

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Netherlands22008356
2Chile22005146
3Australia200236-30
4Spain200217-60

C

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Colombia22005146
2Ivory Coast21013303
3Japan201112-11
4Greece201103-31

D

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Costa Rica22004136
2Italy21012203
3Uruguay210134-13
4England200224-20

E

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1France22008266
2Ecuador21013303
3Switzerland210146-23
4Honduras200215-40

F

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Argentina22003126
2Nigeria10100001
3Iran201101-11
4Bos-Herze100112-10

G

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Germany21106244
2USA11002113
3Ghana201134-11
4Portugal100104-40

H

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Belgium11002113
2Russia10101101
3South Korea10101101
4Algeria100112-10
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