Qatar 2022: Iran crush Welsh hearts with last-gasp double
Iran scored two dying minutes’ goal to secure a crucial 2-nil victory over 10-man Wales in Group B of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, leaving the Dragons on the brink of elimination from their first finals in 64 years.
Iran were overawed and outclassed in their opening 6-2 defeat to England but showed far more competitiveness at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. Star striker Sardar Azmoun was Team Melli’s most dangerous attacking threat, and Carlos Queiroz’s team even had the ball in the back of the net through Ali Gholizadeh, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
Although the Welsh struggled to get talisman and captain Gareth Bale into the game, Kieffer Moore did have a fantastic opportunity to break the deadlock, forcing Hossein Hosseini into a reflex stop from point-blank range.
The first half’s main talking point arguably came even before kick-off.
The thousands of travelling Iran fans in the stadium booed their national anthem as the players sang along only half-heartedly in another apparent protest against the worrying situation that continues to unfold at home. In contrast, their opponents’ supporters and starting XI bellowed Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with the usual enthusiasm and emotion.
A draw would do little good for either side, and it was the Asian outfit who appeared to grasp the need for more urgency best. Remarkably, they hit the woodwork twice within seconds, first via an effort from Azmoun before Gholizadeh crashed the post with a curler from outside the area. Azmoun hit the rebound straight at Wayne Hennessey as the Dragons somehow escaped.
For most of the second period, it was one-way traffic as Iran piled forward. Hennessey needed to produce a finger-tipped save to deny Saeid Ezatolahi, although the shot-stopper’s performance would be remembered for something entirely different.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, the 35-year-old floored Mehdi Taremi as the striker bore down on goal. Although referee Mario Escobar initially gave a yellow card, it quickly became red after a short consultation with the pitchside monitor.
As the match looked edging towards a stalemate, substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi struck a brilliant drive from 25 yards into the corner beyond the outstretched hand of replacement goalkeeper Danny Ward. The goal was a massive blow for Rob Page and co, and Ramin Rezaeian secured the win with a delicate chip over Ward on the counter attack in the 98th minute.
Iran climbed to second in the group and will now hope to reach the Round of 16, while Wales need to beat England in their final group encounter to progress.
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