The beauty of the last round of matches in the World Cup Group Stage lies in simultaneity – something not seen very often in modern football. In a thrilling swing of last minute emotions, Portugal saw the first place in Group B slipping out their hands tonight, as they conceded a penalty kick to Iran during stoppage time, right in the moment when Spain managed to level their game with Morocco.
Karim Ansarifard scored from the penalty spot bringing Iran on 1-1, after Ricardo Quaresma had broken the balance in favor of coach Fernando Santos’ side in the first half. But with Spain managing to catch Morocco on a 2-2 score, after having chased them for most of their game, the count of goals scored promoted the Spaniards from the first spot of Group B, winning them a ticket to play the host country Russia in the Round of 16, next Sunday at 4.00 PM.
Portugal, on the other hand, will face Uruguay Saturday at 8.00 PM, and they should be happy with that in any case, as a late shot by Iran’s Mehdi Taremi tonight risked to complete a sensational comeback, and brusquely push Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates out of the tournament.
Right, Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 tonight showed for the first time that he is also human, failing a penalty conversion for his side, and risking hard when he hit Morteza Pouraliganji with an elbow that was well worth a red card. Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres – an awful match direction on his part – limited himself to book him, despite checking the episode multiple times via VAR.
With Ronaldo surprisingly out of play, Portugal thus found an unexpected savior in 35-year-old Quaresma, a seasoned veteran whose talent has always been inversely proportional to his dedication. The Besiktas forward, who was not a starter in the previous two games, found the 1-0 goal in the 44th minute with his trademark trivela, a trick that nine out of ten times brings nothing to the game (much to the anger of his coaches).
But apparently, this was that fatal one time in ten, as Quaresma’s curl shot with the outside of his foot that made him reknown globally, beautifully leaped over the Iranian defense to end its run in the goal.
There was not much else to report in an abulic first half, where the most dangerous man for Iran turned out to be their own goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand, who missed a couple of easy blocks, and was also protagonist of a violent altercation with his teammate Saeid Ezatolahi. That was another surprise, as the number 1 of Iran had been one of the best from Team Melli in the previous games.
However, Beiranvand soon got a chance to make up for his first half blackouts, when Cristiano Ronaldo was pushed down in the box by Ezatolahi. Caceres initially disallowed the penalty, but then corrected his decision upon consulting the VAR. From the spot, Ronaldo produced a violent but central shot, allowing Beiranvand a moment of glory.
The missed conversion galvanized Iran, and you could see that coach Carlos Queiroz’s men would really like to do something. But the technical gap with the Portuguese was too big, and at the end of the day Rui Patricio didn’t have to dirty his gloves that match. Chances for Portugal were not abundant either. CR7 was missing in action tonight. André Silva, also deployed from the start by coach Fernando Santos, was exactly the André Silva seen in Milan last season: A disoriented player.
In the 80th minute, Ronaldo had to thank his poor boxing skills for escaping a red card. His right cross missed the target, but he still managed to hit Pouraliganji with a slap. Had his blow been more evident, no VAR interpretation could have saved him. Referee Caceres punished him with a yellow card only, but one could wonder whether he would have used the same leniency on a player with a smaller mass-culture impact…
As the news of Spain being down 1-2 with Morocco spread, Portugal seemed comfortably in control of the situation. But, what the VAR gives, the VAR takes: In the last minute, Caceres resorted again to technology to understand more about a handball by Portuguese defender Cedric into his box. He opted for a second penalty – a questionable decision again, as the hand touch was a slight and unintentional one.
Captain Ansarifard equalised from the penalty spot, pumping his team up for the last five extra time minutes. The boost of confidence was so strong that Team Melli went that close to score again, but Mehdi Taremi’s shot from a favorable position hit the outside of the net. Iran’s number 17 burst into tears at full time, conscious to have missed the chance of a lifetime – the one that could have sent the Asians to the knock-out phase for the first time in their history…
The best image of a Portugal that Iran managed to scare the hell out of, was coach Fernando Santos sending in Goncalo Guedes in the 95th minute, to gain a few precious seconds. It will take much more than that against Uruguay, which earlier today forced their way among the Sweet Sixteen by trampling Russia.
June 25, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool B
SCORERS: 45′ Quaresma (P); 93′ Ansarifard (I, pen.)
|IRAN (4-5-1): Beiranvand; Rezaejan, Pouraliganji, Hosseini, Hajisafi (56′ Mohammadi); Jahanbakhsh (70’ Ghoddos), Ebrahimi, Ezatolahi (76’ Ansarifard), Amiri, Taremi; Azmoun (Mazaheri, Abedzaeh, Khanzadeh, Montazeri, Shojaei, Torabi, Ghoochannejhad, Dejagah) Coach: Queiroz|
|PORTUGAL (4-4-2): Rui Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Quaresma (70’ Bernardo Silva), William Carvalho, Adrien Silva, Joao Mario (83’ Moutinho); Cristiano Ronaldo, André Silva (95’ Goncalo Guedes) (Lopes, Beto, Bruno Alves, Dias, Ricardo, Mario Rui, Manuel Fernandes, Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins, Moutinho) Coach: Fernando Santos|
REFEREE: Caceres (Paraguay)
NOTES: Attendance: 78011; Yellow Cards: Hajisafi, Azmoun (I), Guerreiro, Quaresma, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cedric (P)