Lionel Messi

It was another rough match for Argentina as they reached injury time without scoring and with little hope of busting the Iranian bunker known as their 10 man defense. But Lionel Messi, in bad or good matches, only needs a certain amount of space and freedom to change everything. His goal might be something we’re used to seeing from him, but it doesn’t make it any less pretty or important.

Against a Bus Parking performance like Iran put on display for a second time in a row in this World Cup, tactics goes out the window. There are approaches that make it easier to find that bunker buster, but it usually comes down to one player beating his man in order to finally open up some space in that defense, and a little bit of luck never hurts. You might talk about attacking from the wings to widen the pitch; creating one-two opportunities by having players get closer together in key areas. Sometimes it’s just luck or set pieces, and often it’s one player making the brilliant move.

The interesting thing about Lionel Messi has been his bad performance against Iran. He didn’t play in the middle in the start of the match, just like against Bosnia. Even when he was moved to the middle to try and find some space, he refrained from shooting at the goal. The wall of players was too much for him to overcome, and when he did try to make something happen by dribbling he was often stopped by the very resolute Iran defense.

But then come these moments like in the 91st minute. Messi against one defender, about 20 meters from goal, slightly to the right of the goal. Everyone who has ever watched Messi play knows what’s coming next – a drift to the middle and an attempt to curl the ball to the right corner of the goalkeeper. He scored something similar against Bosnia, only needed a passing sequence from Gonzalo Higuain to get free.

This time? All him. A juke to the right to throw the defender off and create just enough space to squeeze in the shot he was looking for. In basketball they sometimes say ‘nothing but net’. In football, it’s only about moving the net, but you get the idea. If it was any other Messi who would have scored that goal, the praises and shock would have been greater. With Messi? It’s more like ‘why didn’t he do it sooner.’

Argentina haven’t looked very impressive in their two wins, but the World Cup isn’t about that. Teams that win the tournament often do it without winning fans over with their brilliant style and flair. It’s about being good defensively and making the most of what you got. So far, thanks mostly to Messi being able to find that little moment of magic in front of the net, it’s going fine for Argentina.

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