Argentina will need to improve in their next World Cup games despite having “genius” Lionel Messi, who scored a last-gasp winner in the 1-0 win over Iran on Saturday to send them through to the knock-out stage, coach Alejandro Sabella said.
“We want to improve, obviously,” Sabella said. “There are many things we have to think about and improve.
“All players have contributed to this victory but of course we have a genius who is called Messi. Fortunately, he is Argentine. Everybody would have liked to have Messi, but it is us who have him.
“With Messi, everything is possible,” Sabella said.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who made a crucial save to prevent Iran from taking a late lead, also bowed to his captain. “Thank God our No. 10 is from a different planet,” he said.
“He rubbed his magic lamp and we won,” he added.
After a frustrating 90 minutes against the gutsy Iranians, Messi broke the deadlock with a delightful curling shot in stoppage time to the delight of tens of thousands of Argentine fans at the Mineirao stadium.
“It was very difficult and Iran played a great World Cup match. But that last play from Lionel no one could have stopped it. Not even two goalkeepers could have stopped that Lionel shot,” Sabella said.
WATCH: Lionel Messi's strike
Argentina, among the title favourites in Brazil, played below par for the second consecutive game after narrowly winning their opener against Bosnia 2-1.
They may have secured qualification to the round of 16 but Sabella, who had fielded an attacking formation with Gonzalo Higuain, Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, said they would analyse what had not worked that well, including breaking past the Iranians down the wings.
“This sort of thing can happen. It shouldn’t but it does,” said the Argentine, who won the Copa Libertadores at this stadium with Estudiantes in 2009.
“Of course, we always want to win, so we will try to strike a balance in the next games but it is not always easy,” he said.
Argentina, who have six points, next play Nigeria, who have four points after their 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Sometimes during counter-attacks we decide a match but today things got a little difficult with our counter-attacks,” Sabella said. “I want to congratulate Iran because they played a brilliant game.”
Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta confessed he couldn’t see his side making the breakthrough as Iran had looked the more likely team to score in the latter stages, but claimed anything is possible with Messi on your side.
“We haven’t seen the best version of this team, I think there is more to come,” he said.
“We had the feeling that we weren’t going to win, but when you have a player like Leo, who can always do that, it is very satisfying.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz also praised Messi’s match-defining contribution, but claimed his side had also been undone by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic’s decision not to award a penalty when his side were on top in the second half.
“Messi was fantastic, but the referee wasn’t,” said the former Real Madrid coach.
“I don’t understand it, he had to have seen it was a penalty. He was five metres away, there is no way he couldn’t have seen it. There’s no excuse.
“I have the right to say this and I only hope I am now not punished for telling the truth.
“At the end, two personalities in the game made the difference. The number one was the referee. The second was Lionel Messi,” Queiroz, said.
Iran had several chances to win it, especially in the second half. The best of those opportunities came in the 67th minute, when midfielder Ashkan Dejagah’s powerful header from close range was tipped just over the bar by Romero.
“We know that it would be a difficult, tense match,” Romero said. “Thank God I could get my hand on the ball and it didn’t go in.”
Reuters, Associated Press, Agence-France Presse