BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — If anyone knows how to stop Argentina maestro Lionel Messi, it may just be Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.
He has been credited with devising the tactics and defensive system that shut down Messi in both legs of the 2008 Champions League semifinals while Queiroz was assistant manager at Manchester United, which beat Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate. Many have described Queiroz’s strategy as a master class, with United stifling Messi by denying him space to get a good first touch.
Now, Queiroz will attempt the same feat when Iran takes on Argentina in Group F on Saturday.
“We will try to do it,” Queiroz said. “But Messi is surrounded by different players now. They know each other well.”
Queiroz has already proven at this World Cup that he can put out a solid defensive unit, holding Nigeria to a 0-0 draw in Iran’s first group match. But it will be a very different proposal against an Argentina side that also has other star players like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.
Queiroz said the key is for his team to play with concentration and discipline, and not allow Messi to operate with freedom.
“We won’t play against Messi,” he said. “We will play with him. We have to control the spaces. If Messi isn’t in a specific position, we will have to react.
“We have to play with total concentration for 90 minutes.”
Brazilian fans at Iran’s first match booed the team off the pitch after the stalemate against Nigeria — the first 0-0 draw of the tournament. They weren’t happy with the defensive tactics, especially since this World Cup has been very attacking in nature.
But Queiroz is hopeful that Brazilians who turn out at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte will be on Iran’s side, especially since Argentina is an archrival of the host nation. He also said that while Iran will be organized, his team will try to be faithful to the attacking nature of the tournament.
“I tell my boys, ‘Try to find the net on the opposite side and when we have the ball, we go straight to them,'” he said.
His players aren’t intimidated by Argentina — in fact they view it as a historic moment for the country, which had trouble finding opponents for friendlies before the World Cup because of political and economic sanctions.
“It’s the biggest game in the history of Iranian football,” Queiroz said. “We have never played against such an outstanding team as Argentina. The players wouldn’t change this for the world.”
Pointing to various upsets already in Brazil and big teams like Spain and England exiting the tournament, Queiroz doesn’t rule out a shock result on Saturday.
“Nothing is certain,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this World Cup.”
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