WORLD CUP: Messi Magic and Ghana makes things more difficult for US in 2-2 draw

Messi, Klose, Nigeria shine on Day 10 in Brazil

Messi Magic leads Argentina to knockout phase

by Nate Sulat

For 90 minutes Lionel Messi looked like a ghost rather than the hero of Argentina. Being one of the best players in the world, though, means that it takes just one moment of brilliance to change a game, and on Saturday that moment arrived in stoppage time with a long-range effort from his left foot that beat Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi and saved the Albiceleste from an embarrassing draw.

The win guarantees Argentina a spot in the knockout rounds, and seriously damages Iran’s chances of pulling off a shock top-two finish in Group F.

LA PULGA: Lionel Messi is maybe the best player in the world, but though he’s won basically everything there is to win in the game of soccer, that list of accomplishments still doesn't include his very own World Cup. He’s been under enormous pressure to deliver for an Argentinean fanbase desperate for another title. Through two games, Messi has risen to the task with two game-winning goals. The scary thing is that he hasn’t played his best soccer yet. This might just be a year of destiny for Argentina, and if so, Messi might go down as the best player in history.

THE WHEELS FALL OFF THE BUS: Iran defended like lions for most of this game (check out the graphic of their defensive interventions below), Haghighi parrying everything Argentina sent his way and the team in front of him breaking up the Albiceleste attack with timely tackles. This was a textbook “parking the bus” sort of game for Team Melli, and they very nearly pulled it off to complete one of the most remarkable upsets in World Cup history. As it stands, Iran’s winless streak in World Cup play that has lasted since 1998 will have to continue for at least another game.

THE NO-CALL: Iran actually put together some pretty aesthetically pleasing play on offense, dribbling through Argentina’s defense and deking their way out of tackles with the kind of flair that you might expect from, say, Argentina. In the 64th minute Iran’s aggressiveness paid off with what looked to be a foul on Ashkan Dejagah by Pablo Zabaleta inside the penalty area. Rather than award Team Melli the PK that would have allowed them to go ahead 1-0, Serbian referee Milorad Mazic swallowed the whistle.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ashkan Dejagah, Iran – Dejagah looked brilliant today in midfield, giving Argentina’s defense fits while he was moving forward and giving their offense fits while making tackles in the center of the park. Easily the best performance of any field player.

Klose ties record but Ghana stay alive with 2-2 draw

by Simon Borg

So maybe this second-game syndrome really does exist for Germany. Die Mannschaft have now only won the second match of a World Cup just once in the last six tournaments (1-1-4) after Saturday afternoon's 2-2 draw at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza.

After a lackluster, scoreless first half, the teams traded two goals each after the break in a see-saw battle -- the Germans opened the scoring but then had to come back to tie it up -- which leaves both Germany (4 pts) and Ghana (1 pt) with all to play for in the final matchday.

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RECORD MEN: The hero of the match for the Germans was 36-year-old Miroslav Klose, who scored the 2-2 equalizer just two minutes after coming on the field. But more importantly, by cleaning up a flicked-on corner at the back post in the 71st minute (WATCH IT HERE), Klose tied Brazilian great Ronaldo for the most goals by any player in World Cup history (15).

But Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan, who scored a momentary go-ahead goal in the 63rd minute (WATCH IT HERE), also made history as the first African player to score in three World Cups.

TAKING THE TEMPERATURE: Why the slight drop in German performance from the 4-0 win over Portugal? The 70 degrees may not have been the problem in Fortaleza, Brazil. But the 96 percent humidity probably was. When the sun went down in the second half the rhythm picked up, but the game was often played at Matrix super-slomo pace in the opening 45.

ALL-PURPOSE PLAYER: Apart from a handful of pretty Mesut Ozil through passes, the best play by a German player was the perfectly weighted Thomas Muller cross for Mario Gotze, who still manage to bumble it, by heading the ball off his knee to open the scoring (WATCH IT HERE).

GERMANY'S ACHILLES HEEL: The USA will have taken note of just how soft the German back line looked on both Ghana goals. Two defenders, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker allowed Andre Ayew an uncontested header in the 54th minute (WATCH IT HERE). And then Gyan sliced open the centerbacks on his goal-scoring run. But it wasn't just the goals: Germany looked vulnerable throughout.

GROUP G IMPLICATIONS: The draw means that Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will be eliminated with a loss against the USA on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Americans saw their hopes of advancing slightly improved, although a Germany win would have clearly been preferred.

BROTHERS FROM ANOTHER MOTHER: Many were looking forward to half-brothers Jerome Boateng (Germany) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana) match-up after both were given the start. They actually went head-to-head on the field at different times, but neither finished the game. Jerome was yanked at halftime and Prince went 53 minutes.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Sulley Muntari, Ghana. He had his hands full against a star-studded three-man central midfield of Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos but he singlehandledly made sure Ghana weren't overwhelmed by them. And he picked off a ball to get the assist on Ghana's second goal. The only blemish? He was shown a late yellow which means he'll miss the finale vs. Portugal.

Nigeria on the brink of advancement while Bosnia headed home

by Giovanni Albanese

Nigeria are now on the brink of advancing out of Group F and into the knockout phase after a solid – nearly dominating – performance over Bosnia-Herzegovina in a 1-0 win Saturday night in Cuiaba.

Emmanuel Emenike assisted Peter Odemwingie in the 29th minute for the lone goal of the match. Bosnia-Herzegovina had their chances too, but could not find a way past Super Eagles goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

The win was the first in the World Cup play for Nigeria since topping Bulgaria 1-0 in the group stage at France 1998.

OFFICIALS GIVETH AND TAKETH AWAY: Brilliance by Bosnia-Herzegovina leads to the game’s first goal. Or so many would have thought. A nice through ball got behind the Nigeria defense and Edin Dzeko ran onto it and buried it into the back of the net, only to have it taken back by the sideline official, who ruled that Dzeko was offside. Replays showed the call was inaccurate.

Less than 10 minutes later in the 29th minute, Emenike appeared to take down a Bosnian defender while driving into the box, and it went uncalled. He then followed it up by slotting a pass to Odemwingie for the opening goal.

BACK TO FINISHING SCHOOL: Bosnia-Herzegovina were shut out, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. That was particularly evident with Dzeko, who tallied 8 shots, but could not finish anything off, save for the controversially disallowed goal. Dzeko could have tied it up twice in stoppage time, but Enyeama gobbled up a header, and then kicked away a try from point-blank range that bounced off the post to preserve the win.

STELLAR IN THE NETS: It wasn’t just Enyeama who was solid in the nets. Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was on his game, too, keeping his nation in it with eight saves. The two combined for 15 saves in total, with Enyeama recording seven in the clean sheet.

WORLD CUP RAMIFICATIONS: With the win, Nigeria need a win or draw vs. Argentina in their group finale, or a Bosnia-Herzegovina win or draw vs. Iran on the same day to advance to the knockout phase. However, if Nigeria lose and Iran win, both will have four points and goal differential will decide which nation advances. Bosnia-Herzegovina seemed primed for a good run in this World Cup, but with consecutive losses to open play they have officially been eliminated.

Man of the Match: Emmanuel Emenike, forward, Nigeria. The Nigerian striker was energetic and dynamic throughout the contest. He assisted on the lone goal of the match and had many touches in the box that nearly extended the lead. Enyeama was a close second with his clean sheet.