BRASILIA (Reuters) - Argentina captain Lionel Messi and record-equalling Miroslav Klose of Germany rode to the rescue of their teams with trademark goals on another day of rich entertainment at the World Cup finals on Saturday.
Messi snatched a 1-0 win for Argentina against plucky Iran with a typical piece of brilliance that sent the South Americans through to the last 16, while Klose equaled the record for World Cup goals of 15 to salvage a 2-2 draw against Ghana.
Messi struck in stoppage time in Belo Horizonte with a superb curling effort, although a moment of genius from the four-times world player of the year could not disguise a lackluster display from one of the tournament favorites.
The goal, a cruel blow for the Iranians who several times came close to taking a shock lead, was enough to put Argentina through from Group F with a game to spare and was Messi’s second of the tournament after his stunner against Bosnia.
“With Messi, everything is possible,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella told a news conference.
“Not even two goalkeepers could have stopped that Lionel shot,” he added.
With the clock ticking down, Messi looked to be in an innocuous position when he received the ball on the right in the 91st minute.
Dropping his shoulder and cutting inside his marker, he bent a 25-yard left-foot effort into the far corner past goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi’s outstretched hand.
Messi said he was confident his team would peak at the right time. They next face Nigeria after beating Bosnia 2-1 in their opener, with the Africans due to play the World Cup debutants in Cuiaba later on Saturday.
“If we analyze both matches we might say we can play better,” man-of-the-match Messi told reporters.
“We know we are not playing as well as we are expected,” added the 26-year-old.
“When I saw that I had scored I was very, very happy because we were in stoppage time and we wanted to make sure we go through. Then people started screaming, hugging, smiling. It was wonderful moment.”
After a 4-0 demolition of Portugal in their opening Group G match, the Germans looked to be cruising against Ghana when Mario Goetze struck in the 51st minute in Fortaleza.
However, the Africans had other ideas and came roaring back, Andre Ayew heading the equalizer three minutes later and a great interception and pass by Sulley Muntari set up Asamoah Gyan to lash home.
Germany leveled in the 71st minute thanks to a sharp finish by substitute Klose with his first touch of the ball, moving him level with former Brazil striker Ronaldo as the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.
Germany have four points, the United States three, Ghana one and Portugal zero ahead of their Group G game against the U.S. on Sunday.
Despite his 36 years, Klose performed one of his trademark somersaults after his goal, a neat half volley at the far post from a corner.
“Twenty (World Cup) matches and 15 goals isn’t bad at all,” Klose told German television.
“But what’s important is that we have a good match against the United States,” he added.
“I don’t know how long it’s been since I did a somersault but at least it worked out.”
In one of the day’s quirkier stories, the suspension of Dutch captain Robin van Persie for Monday’s World Cup Group B decider against Chile means the Netherlands will play without a player whose surname begins with “Van” for the first time in almost two decades.
The last time it happened was in 1996 in a friendly against China, some 221 matches ago, the Algemeen Dagblad reported.
Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Karolos Grohmann in Belo Horizonte, Erik Kirschbaum in Santo Andre and Mark Gleeson in Salvador, editing by Ed Osmond