BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil - A stunning injury time strike from Lionel Messi spared Argentina's blushes as they qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup with a hard fought 1-0 win over Iran in Belo Horizonte.
Argentina had been thankful to three fine second-half saves from goalkeeper Sergio Romero just to be level heading into stoppage time, while Iran had also had a strong penalty appeal waved away when Pablo Zabaleta appeared to foul Ashkan Dejagah inside the area.
However, despite having endured a quiet game by his standards, Messi produced a moment of magic when his side needed it most to register his second goal of the tournament.
"They made the game very difficult for us," admitted Argentine boss Alejandro Sabella.
"Messi was marked very tightly, but he showed perseverance, patience, attitude and always looked for the goal. He never gave up."
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz also praised Messi's match-defining contribution, but claimed his side had also been undone by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic's decision not to award a penalty when his side were on top in the second half.
"Messi was fantastic, but the referee wasn't," said the former Real Madrid coach.
"I don't understand it, he had to have seen it was a penalty. He was five metres away, there is no way he couldn't have seen it.
"I have the right to say this and I only hope I am now not punished for telling the truth."
Sabella had resorted to the 4-3-3 system preferred by Messi with the four-time World Player of the Year joined by Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero in attack.
However, despite enjoying the vast majority of possession in the first half, La Albiceleste struggled to create chances from open play against a well organised Iranian defence.
The first opening fell to Higuain from a fine pass by Fernando Gago, but Iranian 'keeper Alireza Haghighi bravely smothered the ball at the Napoli striker's feet.
Angel di Maria and Messi from a free kick then fired over from the edge of the area, but Argentina were having some joy from set-pieces and Marcos Rojo and Ezequiel Garay should have done better when they failed to hit the target from close range from fine deliveries by Messi.
Iran were also dangerous from set-pieces, though, as they could even have gone ahead before the break when Jalal Hosseini headed just over from a corner.
Instead it was Argentina who snatched victory at the last as Messi created the half yard of space he needed on the edge of the area before leaving Haghighi with no chance as he curled the ball just inside the far corner on his favoured left foot.