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Lionel Messi hailed by teammates

Lionel Messi was praised by his Argentina teammates after his late goal secured victory against Iran and booked them a place in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup.

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Argentina had toiled against Carlos Queiroz's stubborn side in Belo Horizonte but Messi's strike broke the deadlock and earned a second hard-fought win in as many games.

Javier Mascherano, a teammate of Messi for Barcelona and Argentina told Spanish TV: "That is what Messi has, on the day he is not so involved in the play, he appears and does that."

Goalkeeper Sergio Romero added on Argentinean TV: "Thanks be to God, the little guy rubbed the lamp in the last minute and we won."

Meanwhile, Queiroz expressed his pride in his Iran side after they pushed one of the favourites to win the tournament all the way, saying: "Very proud of my players but disappointed and frustrated."

But he questioned the referee's failure to award Iran a spot-kick following Pablo Zabaleta's challenge on Ashkan Dejagah, adding that it was "a clear penalty".

Messi, himself, added: "It was difficult for us to break their defence and create spaces. We need spaces because it's the only way we can score. But we still had chances and all played well together.

"As soon as I got the ball, I wanted to put Argentina through with the win. When I saw that I scored, I was very happy. We wanted to qualify for the next phase. I heard people screaming and smiling and it was wonderful.

"Iran were marking me all the time; the last two matches were like this. They have been defending both me and [Angel] Di Maria very closely. If we analyse all of the matches, we can say that we can play better. We will reach our potential and we know that we're not playing as well as we expected.

"It's difficult when the other team protects the goal so well. Today's victory was very important. Now we are confident and have peace of mind."

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella paid credit to Iran's gameplan to stifle his side, but credited his players for finding a way to overcome the challenge and still secure victory.

"We controlled the ball during the first half and we had three clear goal opportunities. We were able to recover the ball all the time.

"Iran played a great match as well. They have been able to profit when we lost the ball and they knew what to do with it.

"We wanted to win. We will try to strike a balance and sometimes, in counter-attack situations, we decide the match. Today, things got a little difficult with our counter-attacks.

"Both goalkeepers played very well, but not even two goalkeepers could have stopped Lionel's goal.

"The changes I made were made because I wanted to have two fresh strikers. I wanted to create space so that we would have opportunities on the right wing.

"Bosnia and Iran are two different national teams. Bosnia has excellent mentality and they play more attacking. Iran is more prepared for defending and counter-attacks. Iran waited for us and marked Messi all the time.

"They were very patient. They tried to score as well and had two good opportunities in the second half."

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A goal from Lionel Messi at the death saw Argentina dispatch Iran and book a spot in the round of 16.

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sports espn argentina iran fifa world cup lionel messi
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