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World Cup Daily: June 22

A daily update on the action in Brazil
Nick Barbaro, 9:24am, Sun. Jun. 22
Saturday was a good day for African countries, which haven’t had many of those at this tournament. And it set things up well for today’s USA-Portugal, the last 5pm game of the tournament, and indeed, one of the most intriguing matchups of the entire first round.

Saturday Results

Argentina 1, Iran 0
It took until the 91st minute for Argentina to break down a resolute Iranian defense on a brilliant individual effort by Lionel Messi. Up until then, they had controlled the ball and the game, but struggled to create genuine scoring chances, while Iran got at least three close calls on the counterattack. But that’s what a superstar can do: about a minute into extra time, Messi got the ball just outside the corner of the penalty area, took a couple of touches inside to create the slightest of open lanes, and drove a curling shot into the opposite corner. Game over. And so Argentina advances – as group winners unless they lose their finale against Nigeria by two goals or more – while Iran leaves empty-handed unless they they can beat Bosnia, and get some help.

Germany 2, Ghana 2
A delightful back-and-forth game, whose result leaves everyone in Group G still alive – and makes the U.S. opening win over Ghana look more impressive in retrospect. Germany finally looked vulnerable, after never getting tested against Portugal. Ghana showed the same strength in midfield that they had against the U.S., but also the same tendency to be wasteful of chances in the final attacking third of the field. Miroslav Klose scored the final equalizer for Germany just two minutes after coming on as a late sub; he tied Brazil’s Ronaldo as the all-time World Cup goal-scoring lead with 15, and becomes just the second player ever to score in four different World Cups.

Nigeria 1, Bosnia/Herzegovina 0
Tough loss for Bosnia, who go two-and-out in their first WC appearance. They had a legitimate Edin Dzeko goal called back for a phantom offside call in the first half, then appeared to have a good argument for a Nigerian foul in the build-up to the game’s only goal, late in the second half. This after being ahead of Argentina for much of the first game.

Saturday’s Games:

11am: Belgium-Russia (Group H)
Belgium is a lot of people’s dark-horse favorite, but they struggled in a come-from-behind win over Algeria. They’ll need to show more going forward.

2pm: Algeria-South Korea (Group H)
The Desert Foxes may have shot their wad in trying to hold an early 1-0 lead over Belgium.

5pm: USA-Portugal (Group G)
The final game of the group stage second round – also the final 5pm kickoff of the tournament – is the big one for U.S fans. A win puts the U.S. into the lead in this Group of Death, and clinches a surprising spot in the final 16. Realistically, Portugal needs to win their final two to survive, after the disastrous performance in the 0-4 opening loss to Germany. The big question of the day is: what kind of Portugal will show up here? They could completely implode, especially if they face adversity early, or they could dig in and revert to the form that made them the fourth-ranked team in the world coming into Brazil. Injuries and a suspension will play a big role: The U.S. will miss Jozy Altidore (hamstring), but Portugal is hurting much worse: striker Hugo Almeida and defender Fabio Coentrao out with injuries, defensive linemate Pepe suspended for an inexplicably stupid head-butt against Germany, and world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo hobbled by knee ailments and possibly Ghanaian witch doctor curses.

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