Lionel Messi: struggled until his winning goal.

Lionel Messi: struggled until his winning goal. Photo: AFP

Belo Horizonte: It was like watching a Ferrari stuck in traffic.

Such was the wasted use of Lionel Messi. For 89 minutes, a man who may one day be remembered as the greatest footballer of all time cut a forlorn figure as Argentina laboured against tenacious and incredibly talented Iran. 

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's winner. Click for more photos

World Cup 2014: Argentina v Iran match highlights

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates scoring his team's winner. Photo: Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Argentine fans travelled to Belo Horizonte expecting a routine match, one so lopsided that it would later be forgotten amid the countless first round thrashings Argentina have served up in past tournaments. They also expected Lionel Messi to spearhead their attack once again. 

Instead, he was deployed wide, deep and so far from goal that he was almost never a threat. Against a team Argentina were expected to dispense with ease, Messi's prowess in front of goal was sacrificed to accommodate other naturally inferior strikers.

Gone were the constant darting runs that cause nightmares as his game became awash with sideways passes and large stints watching from afar. A solitary solo effort on the hour mark was his best moment from midfield.

So harmless was the most dangerous player in the world made to be that defenders showed no fear in committing to a tackle, something that rarely happens when he plays in Spain,

It became evident that years of leading Barcelona's attack eroded his ability to play a traditional wide role. 

With a centre forward deployed against Iran, Messi had little space to move into when making strides into central and threatening areas with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero occupying the box. Coach Alejandro Sabella had to replace those two with more laborious and wide-forwards Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio to allow his greatest weapon to fire. 

Despite the best efforts of Iran, it should be no surprise that the little man from Rosario did just that. 

A stunning finish from a trademark run spared Argentine blushes and masked an otherwise poor performance. It was his second winner in consecutive games which further strengthened the belief that Argentina's hopes almost entirely rely on his ability to deliver. A World Cup winner requires one hero, something Argentina know all too well.  For the first time since Diego Maradona they have one again. 

But judging from today, they don't know it.