Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years looks set to end at the first hurdle after Iran’s shocking – but deserved – last-gasp defeat in Qatar.
Substitute Roozbeh Cheshmi scored from 20 yards nine minutes into stoppage time, before Ramin Rezaeian finished off a counter-attack to seal victory for a revived Iran side, who have renewed hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
It was a decisive blow to Wales’ hopes of victory, which were all but nipped in the bud when goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off with four minutes remaining, following a video assistant referee review, for a careless challenge on Medhi Taremi.
As they did in the opening tie with the USA, Wales started poorly and had the video assistant referee (VAR) to thank for disallowing a goal from Iran’s Ali Gholizadeh for offside.
In one of the most charged atmospheres of this World Cup, Iran’s players sang their national anthem this time – having refused to do so before their defeat against England began in apparent support of anti-government protests in their country – but their own fans booed the national anthem and some were seen crying in the stands.
Carlos Queiroz’s side, roared on by a fiery and almost entirely Iranian crowd, were extremely unlucky not to score early in the second half as Sardar Azmoun and Gholizadeh both hit the post within seconds.
Wales were completely ragged and as they pressed forward in search of a late goal they desperately needed, a long ball over the top left the defense exposed and the eager Hennessey felled Taremi.
Hennessey was initially shown a yellow card but it was changed to a red after the referee was advised to check on the pitch, as the 35-year-old became only the third goalkeeper to be sent off at the World Cup.
It sealed Wales’ fate for this game and arguably their hopes of making it to the second round.
While Robert Page’s men were as disjointed as they were against the USA, the Iranians were unrecognizable from the team England beat 6-2 in their first game and deservedly so.
Wales now face the formidable challenge of having to win their final group game on Tuesday against England, who face the USA later on Friday.
It’s not impossible but given the way the teams’ Group B has gone so far in Qatar, Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years looks to be in serious danger of ending in the first tier.
Wales rue another sloppy performance
After being absent from the World Cup since 1958, Wales marked their emotional and long-awaited return to football’s grandest stage with 1-1 draw against USA on the same field on Monday.
They looked overwhelmed by the scale of the occasion in the first half as they were outplayed and outplayed by the USA, but were much improved after Kieffer Moore came on at half-time.
The Bournemouth forward started this time and while his presence gave Wales an added dimension in attack, they were still as worried in midfield as they had been against the USA.
Sensing this weakness, the Iranians pressed their opponents high up the pitch, causing panic among the Welsh midfielders and defenders, especially on the break.
Despite the vulnerability through the middle, where Page had been stuck in the same selection, Wales looked more dangerous when they played wide, and it was Moore who stood to win.
Connor Roberts found the 6ft 5in forward with a fine cross from the right on 13 minutes and although Moore stretched to connect the shot was straight at goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini.
Roberts’ next involvement three minutes later was less notable, as his cross was cut out close to his own penalty area, allowing Sardar Azmoun to tee up Gholizadeh, who finished into the empty net. There was no flag at first, but after a quick VAR review, the goal was disallowed for offside.
Azmoun headed the next chance over as Wales struggled to get a grip on the game. Fortunately for them, as dynamic and well-rounded as the Iranians were, they didn’t create many real scoring chances.
Wales can make changes
Despite the clear problems his side faced in the first half, Page made no changes at halftime.
Just as his inability to heed the lessons of the USA game allowed Iran to press in the first half, Page’s inaction on this occasion forced Wales onto the back foot in the second half.
They were extremely lucky not to go behind five minutes after the restart when Iran hit the post twice in a matter of seconds.
First, Azmoun struck with a right-footed shot that cannoned off the woodwork and fell to Gholizadeh, whose curling left-footed shot hit the far post. Azmoun was the first to react but Hennessey stopped the rebound.
Wales were in disarray at this point, their defense being harassed and getting almost no protection from the players up front.
This struggle made it impossible to attack with any cohesion, making Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey all but obsolete.
It was a depressing sight for Wales fans to watch these two big men – heroes of the last two European Championships – reduced to marginal numbers on this occasion.
Wales still pushed forward in the vague hope of forcing a late winner, but that desperation was dashed when Hennessey caught Taremi with a high boot.
The day belonged to Iran, who left it late to secure the victory they richly deserved.
After too much time from Wales’ tiring bodies, Cheshmi produced a superb shot from 20 yards which whistled into the bottom corner to prompt wild celebrations. It was the 42nd goal of the World Cup, but the first from outside the box.
Then with Wales even more exposed, it was up to Rezaeian to add a fine finishing touch as Iran cruised to victory, knowing that a runner-up against the USA will secure passage to the second round for the first time.
- 1HennesseyBooked in 86 min
- 6RodonBooked in 45 min
- 14RobertsReplacedJonssona horse 57′minutes
- 10RamsayReplacedDepartmenta horse 87′minutes
- 15AmpaduReplacedAllena horse 77′minutes
- 8WilsonReplacedJamesa horse 58′minutes
- 3N Williams
- 19M Harris
- 23RezaeianBooked in 90 min
- 17GholizadehReplacedJahanbakhsha horse 77′minutesBooked in 90 min
- 6EzatolahiReplacedKarimia horse 83′minutes
- 21NoorollahiReplacedCheshmia horse 78′minutes
- 3HajisafiReplacedTorabia horse 77′minutes
- 20AzmounReplacedAnsarifarda horse 68′minutes
- Mario Escobar
Game over, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
The second half is over, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
Goal! 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 breakaway.
Goal! Wales 0, IR Iran 1. Roozbeh Cheshmi (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box to the bottom right corner.
Blocked for attempt. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Morteza Pouraliganji.
Blocked for attempt. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mehdi Torabi.
Blocked for attempt. Ramin Rezaeian (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi.
Attempt missed. 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 missed. Neco Williams (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box 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 shown the yellow card.
Dan James (Wales) wins the free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Ali Karimi (IR Iran).
Off the pitch, IR Iran. Alireza Jahanbakhsh tries to pass the ball, but Karim Ansarifard is taken off the field.
Kieffer Moore (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Majid Hosseini (IR Iran).
Attempt missed. Mehdi Torabi (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Karim Ansarifard.
Attempt missed. Karim Ansarifard (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi.
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