RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Argentina will be looking to seal its place in the knockout stages of the World Cup with a match to spare when Lionel Messi and his teammates face Iran on Saturday.
The Iranians are bound to make life difficult for one of the tournament favorites, as they did for Nigeria in a gritty 0-0 draw. But Messi's superb winner against Bosnia-Herzegovina was a reminder why he has been voted world player of the year four times.
Germany, which opened with a 4-0 demolition of Portugal, can take a giant stride toward the last 16 when it takes on a Ghana side that slipped to a late 2-1 defeat by the United States.
The last game of the day pitches Nigeria against the Bosnians.
Things to watch for Saturday:
Pay attention to Argentina's formation, it may just be the start of a rift between coach Alejandro Sabella and his captain Lionel Messi.
Sabella used a 5-3-2 formation for the first half of Argentina's opening game in Group F, before switching to the 4-3-3 lineup which Messi prefers. Messi, who later made a thinly-veiled criticism of Sabella's initial tactics, went on to score a superb goal after the break that proved to be the winner.
The first few minutes against Iran should reveal who's won the tactical argument for this match.
For his part, Iran's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz certainly hasn't downplayed the stakes on Saturday.
"Our match with Argentina will be the most important and biggest match in Iran's football history," he declared. Queiroz was probably equally accurate when he said: "I still believe the majority assume there are only three teams in Group F."
However, he meant it more as a warning, than a comment on popular opinion.
And at a tournament where world champion Spain and England are being sent home early, and Italy has been outclassed by Costa Rica, it may not be an empty threat.
Venue: Belo Horizonte. 1 p.m. local time (noon in New York, 5 p.m. in London, 1 a.m. in Tokyo).
ALL IN THE MIND
A win for Germany, and a victory or draw for Jurgen Klinsmann's United States team the following day against Portugal, will guarantee early qualification from Group G.
However, the challenge for Joachim Loew's side will be as much mental as physical. Like Italy, which lost 1-0 to Costa Rica on Friday, Germany has suffered from "second match syndrome" at recent tournaments — losing to Croatia at Euro 2008 and Serbia at the 2010 World Cup.
Continue reading this story on the...