VANCOUVER, BC – If Steven Beitashour makes his World Cup debut this weekend, he’ll only have to try and contain who many consider to be the best player in the world.
The Iranian men’s national team are set to take on Argentina in their second match of the group stage Saturday in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Fifth-ranked Argentina boast a star-studded roster headlined by four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi.
Beitashour didn’t play in Iran’s first game – a scoreless draw with Nigeria. But his speed and one-on-one defending ability could be of value against Argentina, whose possession-based attack is in stark contrast to Nigeria’s more direct style.
If Beitashour does get the call, he’ll be the second Vancouver Whitecaps FC player to go head-to-head with Messi and the powerhouse Argentines this month. The first was centre back Carlyle Mitchell, who started for Trinidad and Tobago in a 3-0 loss to Argentina in a June 4 friendly.
“For me as a player and for us as a team, it was a great experience to play against some of the best players in the world such as Messi, di Maria, and Mascherano,” Mitchell told whitecapsfc.com. “That was one of the biggest games I’ve ever played in my life for my national team. And after that game, you realize you still have a lot to learn.”
Trinidad and Tobago, the 71st ranked team in the world, almost made it through the opening 45 minutes without conceding but Inter Milan striker Rodrigo Palacio got Argentina on the board in first-half stoppage time. The Argentines then added two more goals in the early stages of the second half through Javier Mascherano and Maximiliano Rodriguez en route to a 3-0 victory.
The biggest thing Mitchell said he learned from the game was the importance of staying organized and disciplined for the full 90 minutes. Put one foot wrong or lose focus for a split second and it will likely end up in a goal against. And then there’s the inherent challenge of playing against Messi.
“We all know Messi is the best player of the world,” Mitchell said. “You have to show him respect, but not too much respect. We have to concentrate on what we do. We can’t control Messi. We don’t know what he’s going to do.”
Mitchell speaks from experience. In the 49th minute of that June 4 match, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound centre back was shown a yellow card for hauling down the Argentine superstar – a play he won’t soon forget.
“He took the ball from the right hand side and continued driving,” Mitchell said. “The first defender stepped and he got past him, then I stepped and he put it through my legs and tried to get around me. So I just put out my hand and caught him in the face or something and he fell.”
It was a fair call, Mitchell said, and one he wasn't too upset about.
“Now I can tell my grandkids that I got a yellow card against Messi.”
It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($220), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.