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Iran-Portugal Tie: Who Could Have Imagined It?

June 26, 2018
7 min read
Iran-Portugal Tie: Who Could Have Imagined It?
Iran-Portugal Tie: Who Could Have Imagined It?

You went beyond imagination. As part of the “Group of Death,” you had to fight a former world champion, a current European champion and the absolute African champion. You came third with four points, you had a chance of advancing until the very last second, and you cried when the referee blew the whistle. One must stand up in honor of this team, applaud it and remember it with a love that will last forever.

This is the starting lineup of the team that Carlos Queiroz sent on to the field against Portugal:

- Goalkeeper: Alireza Biranvand

- Defenders: Rami Rezaian, Ehsan Hajsafi, Morteza Pouraliganji and Majid Hosseini

-  Midfielders: Saeed Ezatolahi, Omid Ebrahimi and Vahid Amiri

- Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun

And this was Portugal’s starting lineup:

- Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio

- Defenders: Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte, Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro

- Midfielders: Adrien Silva, Joao Mario and William Carvalho

- Forwards: Andre Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma

The game started with the expected initial attack from Portugal and a retreat by Iran. This is what Queiroz always does to try out his competitors and to get a handle on their plans for offense. At first, Portugal tried to play at the defensive line and dispatch long balls toward the Iranian goal. Ronaldo got his first chance at the game’s third minute. He kicked the ball at the 18-yard line but it was low and Biranvand stopped it. It was perhaps a little too early for the Iranian goal to be opened.

Iran’s closed defense was in one respect different in this game with Portugal when compared with its other World Cup matches. This time Iran started its push not from its own field but from the defensive third of its competitor’s field. At the seventh minute, an intelligent counter-attack by Jahanbakhsh threatened the Portuguese goal but Vahid Amiri’s kick sent the ball far wide.

Whatever Iran’s tactical plans were, Iranian players displayed a certain lack of self-confidence in their movements. Even though they managed to counter Ronaldo well, two mistakes by Biranvand when trying to control the ball and one mix-up when Ezatolahi and Biranvand tried to deflect it put Iran in a dangerous situation.

The Biased Referee

Very early on you could see that the referee, Enrique Cáceres from Paraguay, had a bias in favor of Portugal, even in the way that he treated the players. When Iran fouled, he blew his whistle at midfield or around the penalty area without any hesitation. But he failed to declare a foul against Portugal behind Portugal’s penalty line and, a minute later, did not present a Portuguese defender with a card when he blocked Ehsan Hajsafi.

After the 15th minute, the mood changed a little. Iran attacked a few times but quickly returned to the back and adopted a defensive posture. The change was very slight, which of course could be dangerous whether Portugal attacked or counter-attacked. But Queiroz’s team had no choice. What it needed from this game was points.

By contrast, Spain and Morocco had found the path to each other’s goals beautifully. Morocco scored a goal at the 15th minute and five minutes later, Spain scored its own. 

Iran’s game at this point was based on Sardar Azmoun’s speed, his headers and his passes for escapes by Jahanbakhsh, Amir and Taremi. Taremi constantly changed his place. He was the only free player and was able to retreat to the heart of Iran’s defensive line.

The same was true of Ronaldo’s playing. He never played in a defined space. The way he kept changing places was incredible, and, of course, he did it to mislead and confuse the Iranian attackers.

The best moment was set up by Jahanbakhsh. He received the ball, created a situation, took the ball and managed to get a foul declared against Portugal. He took the free kick but a header by Saeed Ezatolahi sent the ball right to where the Portuguese goalkeeper was standing. Perhaps if his ball had had a slight angle then at the 33rd minute it would have won Iran its first goal.

Three minutes later another speedy cooperation between Amir, Azmoun and Taremi could have won Iran a goal but Taremi’s pass to Azmoun was not strong enough and Pepe prevented the ball from reaching Azmoun.

Leaving the Goal Open

At the 40th minute, Queiroz’s movements on the sideline indicated that Iran was adopting a new tactic for the closing minutes of the half. He ordered the team to push forward, but Portugal blocked the Iran’s best setups. To be more exact, Iran laid out traps to get to Portugal’s penalty area. When Azmoun received the ball, Vahid Amiri would move from the side and Portugal’s defense opened up, but then Azmoun would send the ball to the center, to Taremi or Jahanbakhsh. And yet Iran’s push forward left its own goal open.

At the 45th minute, as Iran adopted an offensive posture, Ricardo Quaresma captured the ball after two passes and aimed the side of his foot at the corner of Iran’s goal. Biranvand could not reach the ball and the ball went in.

At the 51st minute, Portugal was awarded a penalty kick against Iran although even the Video Assistant Referee could not ascertain that a foul had been committed. This was certainly a wish come true for Ronaldo, who aims to be the top scorer at the World Cup and for over a year has never wasted a penalty kick. But Biranvand defied both the referee and Ronaldo and blocked the ball on the ground.

A Yellow Card

Four minutes later, an alleged foul by Iran was not even video-checked. Sardar Azmoun angrily confronted the referee and got a yellow card for his unwelcome behavior.

Then Iran attacked and shook Portugal’s goal. And Portugal’s reaction to Iran’s offensives was logical, pushing the game to the centerfield and trying to kill time. Iran had to attack, but it also had to be wary of the speedy Portuguese counter-offensives trying to take it by surprise. Keeping the game at the centerfield was what the Portuguese coach Fernando Santos wanted, and what Queiroz had feared. Iran was afraid that it would not create another chance to put the speed of Azmoun, Taremi and Jahanbakhsh to good use.

Azmoun was caught alone between two Portuguese midfield defenders and, as a result, Iran’s long kicks in its counter-offensives got nowhere. Saman Ghoddos was brought on to the field to keep the ball under Iran’s control for longer durations. And as soon as he came on to the field, he did not disappoint. He took a dead ball and kicked it at the Portuguese goal.

But the passage of time only benefited Portugal. Iran was doing its best, but to no avail. And the referee seemed to be playing for the other side. What Ronaldo did should have led to his expulsion from the field but the referee did not want that, so he was not expelled. But perhaps nothing would have changed even if Ronaldo had been expelled. 

At the 80th minute, referee Enrique Cáceres showed that he knew whom to please. Some of the biggest sponsors of international football support Ronaldo and expelling him from the field, even if justified with a video check, was not a wise move.

In the closing minutes of the game, Portugal still controlled the field. Iran was wary of Portuguese counterattacks and Karim Ansarifard coming on to the field did not change anything. Portugal had enough stars to keep the game at the centerfield and to kill time to make sure it would advance to the next round of games at the top of Group B.

Video Check Does It

At the 89th minute, the referee again missed a handball by Portugal. The Iranian team challenged him and he reluctantly agreed to check the video. He would have loved to disregard the foul, but the video check did not leave him a way out. Iran got a free kick and at the 93rd minute, Ansarifard scored a goal for Iran.

Now it was a tie but Iran needed two goals to advance to the next round at the World Cup. Mehdi Taremi got the ball in the box but put it into the side netting. Had he scored, Iran would have had its wish. But only two minutes before the whistle announced the end of the game, the chance was lost. And the referee sent Iran back home.


More about Iran at the 2018 World Cup:

Fans Disrupt Portugal Players' Sleep on Eve of Match, June 25, 2018

Iran-Spain: Not All Defeats Are Created Equal, June 21, 2018

Queiroz: "The God of Football Will Decide”, June 20, 2018

Iran Vs Spain: Before the Match, June 20, 2018

Mehdi Mahdavikia in Kazan, June 20, 2018

Big Boost in Jersey Sales as Iran Celebrates Win, June 18, 2018

Iran’s Victory against Morocco: The World Responds, June 17, 2018

Iran’s Last-Minute Miracle Win, June 15, 2018

Iran Fans in Moscow's Red Square, June 14, 2018

Iran vs. Morocco: The First Challenge, June 14, 2018

Decoding Iran’s Politics: Football and State Interference, June 11, 2018

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