Nigeria, Iran redeem themselves for that game
Yesterday was an important day for Iran and Nigeria. As the co-authors of indisputably the worst game of the tournament so far, the pressure was on for them to step up and achieve what absolutely everybody else, with the possible exception of Greece, has managed: be at least vaguely interesting.
And step up they did. The Nigeria side that went toe-to-toe with Bosnia & Herzegovina were unrecognisable from the limp, thoroughly un-Super Eagles of the last round of fixtures. With each side having decided that caution is not what the public want, they took it in turns trading windy haymakers. Nigeria scored one and could have had more; BiH, for their part, had one perfectly good early goal disallowed by a hideous offside call, hit the post late on, and in between times pulled Nigeria apart with ease only to misplace their finishing.
Iran, by contrast, are a team built in their manager's image. Not because they look like a talk-show host with an extensive cellar and a terrible secret, but because they love defending. It sustains them. It makes them strong. But against Argentina, they decided that as well as doing all their normal swarm-the-man-with-the-ball stuff, they'd try and break on occasion, and in the process went from a cowardly bunch of chancers stinking out the World Cup to a doughty, plucky bunch of upstarts who came *this close* to mugging one of the pre-tournament favourites.
In doing so, they confirmed the great strength of this tournament. Not only has everybody (well, apart from maybe the Greeks) been interesting in one way or another, but all the big boys have also been a different flavour of slightly rubbish. Brazil have been muted, Spain are done, Germany nearly got blown apart by Ghana, Argentina have twice required Messi-anic intervention ... Even France, having scored eight unanswered goals in 170 minutes of football, decided to tease us with the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they're winging it and they can't actually defend. What a wonderfully open tournament this is.
Klose poaches #15
After a very tight 1-0 victory in Saturday's early match, viewers were treated to what looked like more of the same in the second. The first half between Ghana and Germany finished 0-0, and although there enough chances to keep the game reasonably tense, everyone was totally unprepared for the glorious, glorious mess that would follow.
Mario Götze broke the deadlock with a finish that was surely accidental -- the Bayern Munich forward met an inch-perfect cross from Thomas Müller with a stooping header that saw the ball glance off his face, smack straight into his knee and bounce past a distinctly annoyed-looking Fatawu Dauda. From then on, Germany, with their famed counterattacking game, would surely blow the hapless Black Stars off the pitch?
Not so. André Ayew replied with a far cleaner header, and then a turnover in midfield set up Asamoah Gyan to whip a shot beyond the reach of Manuel Neuer to make it 2-1 Ghana. And that set up one of the day's finest moments: a cameo from none other than Miroslav Klose. Already second-top scorer in World Cup history, the Lazio man came into the match with 20 minutes left, and within seconds levelled for the Germans with perhaps the most Klose goal you'll ever see.
Klose's skills aren't flashy, his finishing isn't particularly precise and there's little about the 36-year-old to intimidate Ghana's centre backs. But what he does have is that unerring instinct to be at the right place in the right time, as though the sole purpose of his body is to drift into those pockets of panic and confusion in the defence before coming alive with a deftly-poked shot.
So when Benedikt Höwedes rose over a tangle of bodies on a corner kick and flicked his header towards the far post, it was no surprise to see Klose first at the scene, pulling clear of his marker to prod the ball -- which was almost certainly goal-bound anyway -- over the line from two yards out. That strike levelled the match and equalled Ronaldo's all-time World Cup scoring record and, best of all, thoroughly epitomised the career of one of the finest poachers in the history of international football.
Iran show off their mettle
It's difficult to know whether Argentina are merely getting off to a slow start in the World Cup, or if they really do have weaknesses that will ultimately keep them from making a deep run. Either way, despite their taking six points from two matches, the albiceleste have failed to impress thus far. If it hadn't been for Lionel Messi, both games could very well have ended in draws.
Argentina were always tipped to be fallible, but that was mainly on account of their defense: Federico Fernández routinely frightens Napoli fans, while Marcos Rojo was believed to be a weak link in the side. Their offense, however, with Messi, Sergio Agüero, Ángel di María and Gonzalo Higuaín, looked potent enough to mop up any mistakes the defense would make.
But yesterday, that offense looked limp and overheated. Argentina were out of ideas, and it was only the second game. It was almost as though Alejandro Sabella had gone into the tournament believing the group's minnows hadn't been smart enough to do their homework.
Bosnia knew exactly what they had to do, but it was Iran that came closer to pulling off the plan. Their defense was nearly impenetrable, and during the first half, when it seemed that Iran had more than twenty men behind the ball, Argentina had just two shots on target.
The real joy came in the second half, however, when Iran put the bus in gear and started cruising. For a long while it looked as though they were the ones more likely to snatch a win, but Sergio Romero managed a couple of fantastic saves to deny both Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad.
It took over 135 minutes to finally get a glimpse of Iran's talents beyond their defensive capabilities. Their fast breaks were thrilling, and yes, it was all the more fun to watch them catching out one of the giants. But let's hope that Iran continue to display a more attacking brand of football against Bosnia. They've still got a chance to get through to the next round, but they'll need a better goal difference than Nigeria to do it. There's really no reason for Iran to not put on an exciting display in their final game -- and this already joyful World Cup would be made even better for it.