BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — The "fantastic four" didn't look so fabulous, so once again the magnificent one had to come to the rescue for Argentina.
Argentina is through to the second round at the World Cup largely thanks to Lionel Messi's exceptional left foot. His stoppage-time clincher came after the attacking quartet he spearheads with Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria didn't click in the 1-0 win over Iran.
After a series of missed opportunities, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella broke up the foursome in the 76th minute, replacing Higuain and Aguero with backup strikers Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
"We know that we're not playing as well as we expected," Messi said. "It's very difficult when the other team protects the goal so well."
While Di Maria created chances with fast runs down the left flank and Messi rescued a ho-hum performance with a brilliant late goal, Higuain and Aguero struggled with poor finishing.
"Today we had some difficulties," Messi said. "But Kun (Aguero) had some chances, Pipa (Higuain) had some chances and I did as well. In general I think we played well together."
Sabella's substitutions showed that the coach had a different assessment.
"We were reaching opportunities on the left but not on the right," he said. "Sometimes we were getting through in the middle but there were too many players in the Iranian defense."
Sabella praised his squad for continuing to work hard for the lead even when things weren't going well but admitted that, just like in the first game against Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was the "genius" of Messi that decided the match.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who made a crucial save to prevent Iran from taking a late lead, also gave credit to the Argentina captain.
"Thank God our No. 10 is from a different planet," he said.