Argentina legend Diego Maradona has described Lionel Messi’s match-winning strike against Iran as "divine intervention," echoing his sentiment toward his own Hand of God goal scored 28 years ago in the World Cup.
The Barcelona maestro unleashed a superb curling effort past Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi in the 91st minute to snatch victory for Argentina — a game Alejandro Sabella’s men had struggled to impose themselves on.
The victory against Carlos Queiroz’s side in Belo Horizonte ensured that Argentina qualified for the knockout round of the World Cup after its earlier win against Bosnia and Herzegovina in its opening match of the tournament.PHOTOS: Beautiful people in Brazil | Brazil protests | Soccer fanatics | Fan tattoos
And Maradona has now praised captain Messi for coming to the team’s rescue with his sublime long-range effort, saying it was the work of God that allowed the 26-year-old to score.
"Argentina qualified for the second round with divine intervention in the form of their captain in injury time," Maradona wrote in his Times of India column on the anniversary of his Hand of God goal. "Before Brazil, Messi had only one goal in his previous two World Cups. In this edition so far, he has scored two in two matches. He has certainly begun the way the world expected him to.
"What could have been the greatest result in their [Iran’s] football history didn't happen because the best footballer of this generation found his left foot when his team needed it the most. It was an excellent effort; the placement, power and curl on the ball being just perfect."
While Maradona was happy with his nation’s result against Iran on Saturday, the 53-year-old said that Argentina did not produce a good enough performance.
"Argentina did not play well," he wrote. "They started in their favored 4-3-3 formation but it was Iran who played the way they wanted.
"It was quite like what Brazil experienced against Mexico. In that game too, the favorites were frustrated by an army of men in and around the penalty area. There was no space to maneuver. But unlike the hosts, they found a goal and that's what counts in this game."
Argentina will face Nigeria in its final group game in Port Alegre on June 25 with Sabella’s side only needing a point to go through as the group winner.