Wales’ first World Cup for 64 years looked set to end at the first hurdle after their heartbreaking – but deserved – final loss to Iran in Qatar.
Substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi scored from 20 yards into added time, before Ramin Rezaeian finished off a counter-attack to seal victory for a revitalized Iran side, who have renewed hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
As they did in their opening draw with the United States, Wales started badly and were thanked by the video assistant referee (VAR) for not allowing Iran’s Ali Gholizadeh’s goal for offside.
In one of the most highly charged World Cup atmospheres, Iranian players sing their national anthem this time around – having refused to do so before their opening defeat to England in an apparent show of support for anti-government protests in their country – but their own fans jeered the national anthem and some were seen crying in the stands.
Excited by passion and an almost entirely Iranian crowd, Carlos Queiroz’s side 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 in tatters and, as they pushed forward in search of their much-needed winner, a long ball over the top opened up the defense and their quick-witted keeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off – after a VAR check – for a difficult challenge. reckless on Mehdi Taremi.
That decided Wales’ fate for this match and, in all likelihood, their hopes of reaching the second round.
While Robert Page’s men were as disjointed as they were against the US, Iran were unrecognizable from the side thrashed 6-2 by England in their first game and fully deserved this win which rekindled their ambition to progress to the last 16.
Wales now face a tough challenge to win their final group game on Tuesday against England, who face the United States on Friday.
Not impossible but, based on how the Group B teams have fared so far in Qatar, Wales’ first World Cup for 64 years appears to be in serious danger of ending in the very early stages.
Wales lamented another sloppy performance
Having been absent from the World Cup since 1958, Wales marked their emotional and long-awaited return to football’s grandest stage with a 1-1 draw against the United States at the same stadium on Monday.
They looked taken aback by the magnitude of the occasion during the first half where they were outplayed and beaten by the USA but were much better after the introduction of Kieffer Moore at half time.
The Bournemouth striker started this time around and, while his presence gives Wales an added dimension in attack, they are still as porous in midfield as they were against the United States.
Iran sensed that weakness and pressed their opponents onto the pitch, sparking panic among the Welsh midfielders and defenders, especially at the break.
Despite their vulnerability down the middle, with Page stuck with the same picks, Wales looked the more dangerous when they played wide, and it was Moore who had the advantage.
Connor Roberts found 6ft 5in forward with a fine cross from the right in the 13th minute and, although Moore attempted to connect with a volley, it was straight at Hossein Hosseini’s net.
Roberts’ subsequent involvement three minutes later was less prominent as his cross was cut in close to his own penalty area and allowed Sardar Azmoun to set up Gholizadeh to finish into an empty net. There was no flag at first but after a quick VAR check the goal was ruled out for offside.
Azmoun himself headed in the next chance as Wales struggled for control. Luckily for them, as energetic and well-trained as Iran, they don’t create many actual scoring chances.
Wales has been slow to make changes
Despite the problems his team faced in the first half, Page made no changes in the first half.
Just as his inability to heed the lessons of the US game put pressure on Iran in the first half, Page’s inaction on this occasion forced Wales to retire during the second half.
They were very lucky not to fall behind five minutes into the second half as Iran hit the post twice within seconds.
Azmoun first hit the post with a right-footed shot which fell to Gholizadeh, whose left-footed shot hit the other post. Azmoun was the first to react but the rebound was held up by Hennessey.
Wales are a mess at the moment, their defense abused and given little protection from the players in front of them.
That struggle made it impossible to attack with any kind of cohesion, rendering Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey nearly obsolete.
It was a disheartening sight for Wales fans to witness these two greats – heroes of the last two European Championships – reduced to peripheral figures on this occasion.
Wales were still throwing themselves forward with dim hopes of imposing a late winner but that desperation became their undoing when Hennessey was sent off for a high boot at Taremi.
The day belonged to Iran, who came too late to secure the victory they deserved.
Given too much time by Wales’ weary bodies, Cheshmi unleashed a superb 20-yard strike that whistled into the bottom corner to spark wild celebrations.
Then with Wales more exposed, Rezaeian had to apply the subtle finishing touches as Iran surged to victory, knowing another opponent against the US would secure their passage into the second round for the first time in their history.
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- 1HennesseyOrdered at 86 minutes
- 6RodonOrdered at 45 minutes
- 14RobertsReplaced forJohnsonon 57′minute
- 10RamseyReplaced forWardon 87′minute
- 15AmpaduReplaced forAllenon 77′minute
- 8WilsonReplaced forJameson 58′minute
- 3N Williams
- 19M Harris
- 23RezaeianOrdered at 90 minutes
- 17GholizadehReplaced forJahanbakhshon 77′minuteOrdered at 90 minutes
- 6EzatolaiReplaced forKarimion 83′minute
- 21NoorolahiReplaced forCheshmion 78′minute
- 3HajisafiReplaced forTorabion 77′minute
- 20AzmounReplaced forAnsarifardon 68′minute
- Mario Escobar
Match ends, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
Second Half ends, Wales 0, IR Iran 2.
Target! 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 following a fast break.
Target! 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.
Failed attempt. Brennan Johnson (Wales) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right misses to the right. Assisted by Neco Williams.
Failed attempt. 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.
Breach by Alireza Jahanbakhsh (IR Iran).
Ramin Rezaeian (IR Iran) is shown the yellow card.
And James (Wales) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Breach 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.
Breach by Majid Hosseini (IR Iran).
Failed attempt. Mehdi Torabi (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Karim Ansarifard.
Failed attempt. Karim Ansarifard (IR Iran) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Mehdi Taremi.
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