Argentine superstar Lionel Messi and prolific German scorer Miroslav Klose rescued their teams with clutch goals in World Cup action Saturday.
Messi scored during injury time to give Argentina a 1-0 win over Iran and qualify the Argentines for the coveted round of 16. Klose found the back of the net in the 71st minute for the final goal in a 2-2 draw against Ghana.
Argentina's Group F match against Iran at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil appeared headed for a draw. But Messi, a four-time world player of the year, superbly curled the ball past diving goalie Alireza Haghighi during the first minute of stoppage time to derail an unheralded Iranian team that fought hard.
"With Messi, everything is possible," Argentina's coach Alejandro Sabella said. "Not even two goalkeepers could have stopped that Lionel shot."
The tough road of football
(cartoon by Mohsen Zarifian, ETMAAD daily, Tehran)
Argentina seeks improved play
Argentina has six points from two wins in the tournament. But the world's 5th-ranked team in the FIFA standings will need to improve its sometimes lackluster play when facing more elite opponents in the round of 16, also known as the knockout round.
Argentina beat Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2-1, last week.
"If we analyze both matches, we might say we can play better," said Messi, who has drawn comparisons to fellow Argentine legend Diego Maradona. "We know we're not playing as well as we're expected to."
Saturday's Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Arena Castelao in Fortaleza was thrilling.
Germany took a 1-0 lead early in the second half. But Ghana answered with two goals to go up, 2-1, by the 63rd minute. In the 71st minute, Klose tapped the ball in on a perfectly executed corner kick to tie the game and celebrated by doing a somersault.
It was the 15th World Cup goal for the veteran German striker, tying him with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for the most goals in World Cup history. He is also Germany's all-time leading scorer with 70 goals in 133 games.
"Twenty [World Cup] matches and 15 goals isn't bad at all," Klose told German television. "I don't know how long it's been since I did a somersault, but at least it worked out."
Germany, the world's 2nd-ranked team, would have secured a spot in the knockout round with a win against Ghana. But their tie means the United States will advance to the round of 16 if it beats Portugal on Sunday. Portugal will be eliminated if it loses.
Group G is known as the "group of death" because of the extremely stiff competition. Last week, the U.S. beat Ghana, 2-1, and Germany crushed a tough Portugal team, 4-0.
Nigeria ends World Cup drought
In the last game Saturday, Nigeria kept its hopes alive of reaching the knockout round and won its first World Cup game since 1998 with a 1-0 decision over Bosnia-Herzegovina at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
Nigeria's Peter Odemwingie scored the only goal of the Group F match in the first half. Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko had a goal disallowed due to a questionable offside call in the first half. His strike in the final seconds of the match hit the goal post.
"We were aware of the 16-year gap with no wins for our country," Odemwingie said. "This is very exciting for us and very important, too, as the fans were disappointed by our previous performance," a scoreless draw against Iran.
Bosnia, which was making its first World Cup appearance, was eliminated from the tournament.
In addition to the U.S.-Portugal match in Manaus, there are two Group H games on Sunday. Belgium faces Russia in Rio de Janeiro, and South Korea and Algeria clash in Porto Alegre. Belgium leads Group H with three points.
Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.
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