Listen Argentina, it's Messi's time
The Flea is angry and ready to chew up Iran
ARGENTINA v IRAN
(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
While the Brazilians are glad to see the back of Diego Costa, who is either brutish or Brutus depending on who you speak to, the Argentine moves into position.
As Cristiano Ronaldo grasps how monumental Diego Maradona's task of carrying an honest bunch of average automatons to glory really was, The Flea floats ominously in the background.
Eden Hazard toiled, Wayne Rooney wilted and Neymar laboured, but Messi took another step forward towards his personal goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina; his private mission to usurp them all and leave his imprint on both club and country.
With the focus on Spain, Holland, England and Uruguay in recent days, Messi has slipped beneath the radar; out of sight and almost out of mind. He wouldn't want to be anywhere alse; a primed predator in waiting. And he's angry.
In their second Group F game here in Belo Horizonte tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the Iranians face a moaning Messi. This time, he's got the flea in his ear.
Carlos Queiroz's men must take on Messi with the ball at his feet and a chip on his shoulder. He's playing and behaving like a man possessed. He can almost hear the clock ticking.
The 26-year-old is running out of both time and patience. He was not amused by Argentina's opening 5-3-2 formation against Bosnia-Herzegovina, claiming the formation was unnecessarily cautious and contributed to basic mistakes of their own making.
Argentine reports spoke of a spat between Messi and coach Alejandro Sabella, which the camp has been quick to play down. But the persistent rumour has not been denied. Messi and his comrades demanded a switch to their more familiar 4-3-3 at half-time.
Messi got his way. He scored a fine goal in the second half to underscore his value on the pitch and his importance within the dressing room. He hasn't got the time for Sabella's unnecessary tinkering. He's got a World Cup to win and a legacy to secure.
The Iranians may feel his wrath. Hell have no fury like a wizard scorned.
Queiroz's defensive approach was perhaps unfairly criticised after the dour 0-0 draw against Nigeria. The stalemate felt like an unwanted throwback to South Africa, a tournament of endless possession and parked buses.
But the Portuguese pragmatist has nothing to apologise for. Economic sanctions are hurting the country and have hardly helped his quest to arrange pre-tournament friendlies. Defensive dogma is as good as it's going to get for Iran.
Unleashing his finite talents against Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria is tantamount to tactical suicide.
Jalal Hosseini marshalled his resolute men superbly against Nigeria and formed a solid central defensive partnership with Amir Hossein Sadeqi. Both men are in for a much more strenuous outing in Belo Horizonte against Argentina.
Apart from Messi, Aguero may also feel a need to raise his game after a lacklustre opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The occasion appeared to overwhelm him initially. His running remained intelligent, but his finishing was rushed, tentative.
Argentina's most obvious cause for concern is not Sabella's formation, but a ragged central midfield. Javier Mascherano swept up on behalf of clumsier colleagues against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Maxi Rodriguez was particularly culpable. At 33, age is threatening to catch up with him. Fernando Gago restored balance when he was introduced. The obdurate stalwart can't find his fitness fast enough.
But a stroll in the Belo Horizonte sunshine offers the Argentines the perfect opportunity to secure their safe passage to the knockout stages and tighten their grip on the tournament.
They face willing, but limited opponents in a familiar, welcoming climate in a stadium likely to be painted in the pale blue and white stripes of the Albiceleste.
Argentina fans have snapped up 61,021 tickets for the tournament - the third highest total in the world - with at least twice that number estimated to be on their way to Belo Horizonte.
Until now, they have circled centre-stage. Germany and Holland hog the limelight. Spain's dethroning pulled focus away from the quiet contenders. Being in the shadows has suited Argentina.
But they can truly announce their arrival tomorrow morning. Messi has made no secret of his disquiet over the team's formation. He made the right noises against Bosnia and Herzegovina. He should shout his World Cup claim against Iran.
From Ronaldo to Andres Iniesta, Player of the Tournament contenders are dropping like flies this week. But The Flea is buzzing in Brazil.
MESSI: He believes coach Alejandro Sabella has to back his side's attacking capabilities and include him among a front three when they face Iran.
He said: "We feel more comfortable with two up front and me behind because it makes it easier to counter-attack and, because we have more people in attack, we have more possibilities."
EFFORT: Messi eased some of the pressure on his shoulders to finally deliver his best form at a major tournament for his country against Bosnia & Herzogovina.
But it came after a switch in formation. "In the first half I found it difficult to get hold of the ball. When the change was made, I liked it and I managed to score.''
SUPERSUBS: Messi wants Gonzalo Higuain to start. He came on as a substitute against Bosnia & Herzogovina and set up Messi for his wonder goal.
Fernando Gago could return in midfield at the expense of Maxi Rodriguez as he too made a positive impression as a second-half substitute against Bosnia.
STRIKE: Former Brazil midfielder Zico was astounded at Lionel Messi's brilliant run and strike to secure a 2-1 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Zico, one of the great No. 10s in football history, still rates Pele as the best to wear the jersey number ahead of Messi or Diego Maradona but said at a news conference in Rio de Janeiro: "It was fantastic - the Maracanã deserved a goal like he scored."
IRAN: Striker Reza Ghoochannejhad believes his side can enjoy the experience of taking
on one of the best sides in the world with nothing expected of them.
"We have to enjoy it and follow the coach's instructions to the letter. We've got absolutely nothing to lose in this match," said the Charlton Athletic striker.