Wales players sink to the ground after Iran’s opening goal
Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years looks set to end at the first hurdle after a heartbreaking – but deserved – loss to Iran in Qatar.
Substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi struck from 20 yards in added time before Ramin Rezaeian completed a counterattack to seal victory for a revitalized Iran side who have new hopes of making the knockout stages for the first time in their history to reach.
As in their opening tie against the USA, Wales got off to a bad start and had to thank the video assistant referee (VAR) who disallowed a goal by Iran’s Ali Gholizadeh for offside.
In one of the most charged atmospheres of this World Cup, this time the Iranian players sang their national anthem – having declined to do so before their opening defeat by England, apparently to show their support for anti-government protests in their country – but their home fans booed the anthem and some were seen crying in the stands.
Cheered on by the fervent and almost entirely Iranian crowd, Carlos Queiroz’s side were unlucky to fail to score early in the second half when Sardar Azmoun and Gholizadeh both hit the post within seconds.
Wales were in rags and as they pushed forward in search of the late winner they desperately needed, a long ball over the top left the defense open and their onrushing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was penalized – after a VAR check – for a ruthless challenge sent off to Mehdi Taremi.
That sealed Wales’ fate for that game and, in all likelihood, their hopes of reaching the second round as well.
While Robert Page’s men were just as fragmented as they were against the USA, Iran were unrecognizable from the side that were beaten 6-2 by England in their first game and deserved a win that put their ambitions in the last 16 to come, breathe new life.
Wales now face a formidable challenge of winning Tuesday’s final group game against England, who play the United States later on Friday.
It’s not impossible, but judging by the way Group B sides have fared in Qatar so far, it looks like Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years is in serious danger of coming to an end.
Wales regret another sloppy performance
Wales, who have not featured at the World Cup since 1958, marked their emotional and long-awaited return to football’s greatest stage with a 1-1 draw against the United States at the same stadium on Monday.
In the first half, being overwhelmed and outplayed by the USA, they seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event, but were noticeably better after Kieffer Moore came on at half-time.
The Bournemouth striker was a starting XI this time and while his presence gave Wales an extra dimension in attack, they were still as worryingly leaky in midfield as they were against the States.
Iran sensed this weakness and pushed their opponent high on the field, causing panic among the Welsh midfielders and defenders, especially at the break.
Despite their vulnerability in the middle, where Page had stuck with the same selection, Wales looked more dangerous when they played with distance and it was Moore who benefited from that.
Connor Roberts found the 6ft 5in forward with a fine cross from the right in the 13th minute and, although Moore stretched to connect with a volley, he found goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini head-on.
Roberts’ next involvement three minutes later was less notable when his cross-country pass was cut off near his own box, allowing Sardar Azmoun to bat off Gholizadeh to find an empty goal. There was no flag at first, but after a quick VAR check the goal was disallowed for offside.
Azmoun himself headed the next chance wide as Wales struggled to gain control of the game. Luckily for them, as energetic and well trained as Iran were, they didn’t create many real scoring chances.
Wales is slow to make changes
Despite the obvious problems his side faced in the first half, Page made no changes at halftime.
Just as his inability to heed the lessons of the game against USA unleashed the Iranian pressure in the first half, Page’s inaction on that occasion forced Wales into the return leg in the second half.
They were very lucky not to fall behind five minutes after the restart when Iran hit the post twice in a matter of seconds.
First, Azmoun hit a right-footed shot that ricocheted off the woodwork and fell on Gholizadeh, whose left-footed shot hit the other post. Azmoun was the first to react, but his rebound was choked by Hennessey.
Wales were a mess by this point, their defense being harassed and receiving next to no protection from the players in front of them.
Those fights made it impossible to attack with cohesion, making Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey all but obsolete.
It was a disheartening sight for Welsh fans to see these two greats – heroes of the last two European Championships – reduced to marginal figures on the occasion.
Wales still threw themselves forward in the vague hope of forcing a late winner, but that desperation proved their undoing when Hennessey was sent off for a high boot on Taremi.
The day belonged to Iran, who left late to claim the victory it deserved.
Giving the tiring bodies of Wales too much time, Cheshmi unleashed a superb shot from 20 yards that whistled into the bottom corner to elicit wild cheers.
Then, with Wales even more exposed, it was left to Rezaeian to put the finishing touches on Iran, knowing another game against the USA would secure their first-ever second-round entry.
Rate players up to 10 points during or after the game. The guesser closes 30 minutes after the final whistle.
Evaluation area key1 = give up10 = pure perfection
Squad number7Player’s nameAllensquad number9player’s nameJohnsonsquad number12player nameWardsquad number20player nameJames
14 Roberts 10 Ramsey 15 Ampadu 8 Wilson 3 N Williams
1HennesseyBooked at 86mins5Mepham6RodonBooked at 45mins4Davies14RobertsSubstituted forJohnsonat 57’minutes10RamseySubstituted forWardat 87’minutes15AmpaduSubstituted forAllenat 77’minutes8WilsonSubstituted forJamesat 58’minutes3N Williams11Bale13MooreSubstitutes2Gunter7Allen9Johnson12Ward16Morrell17Lockyer18Williams19M Harris20James21Davies22Thomas23Levitt24Cabango25Colwill26Smith
24Hosseini23RezaeianBooked at 90mins19Hosseini8Pouraliganji5Mohammadi17GholizadehSubstituted forJahanbakhshat 77’minutesBooked at 90mins6EzatolahiSubstituted forKarimiat 83’minutes21NoorollahiSubstituted forCheshmiat 78’minutes3HajisafiSubstituted forTorabiat 77’minutes9Taremi20AzmounSubstituted forAnsarifardat 68’minutesSubstitutes2Moharrami4Khalilzadeh7Jahanbakhsh10Ansarifard11Amiri12Niazmand13Kanani14Ghoddos15Cheshmi16Torabi18Karimi22Abedzadeh25Jalali
Referee: Mario Escobar
Number of visitors: 40,875
Game ends, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
End of second half, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
Goal! Second Half begins Wales 0, IR Iran 2. Ramin Rezaeian (IR Iran) right footed shot from the center of the box to the center of the goal. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi after a counterattack.
Goal! Second Half begins Wales 0, IR Iran 1. Roozbeh Cheshmi (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box to the bottom right corner.
attempt blocked. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Morteza Pouraliganji.
attempt blocked. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mehdi Torabi.
attempt blocked. Ramin Rezaeian (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi.
attempt failed. Brennan Johnson (Wales) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Neco Williams.
attempt failed. Neco Williams (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Chris Mepham (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran).
Ramin Rezaeian (IR Iran) is yellow carded.
Dan James (Wales) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Ali Karimi (IR Iran).
Offside IR Iran. Alireza Jahanbakhsh tries a through ball, but Karim Ansarifard is caught offside.
Kieffer Moore (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Majid Hosseini (IR Iran).
attempt failed. Mehdi Torabi (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide on the right. Assisted by Karim Ansarifard.
attempt failed. Karim Ansarifard (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi.
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