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Iran close to stunning
A late penalty earned a draw for Iran against Portugal in a bad-tempered group decider in Saransk that was dominated by
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VAR decisions and saw Portugal go through to the last 16 despite a tense final few minutes.
Iran’s Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, ranted at Fifa and the VAR system afterwards, suggesting Cristiano Ronaldo should have been sent off for a late elbow on Morteza Pouraliganji. The Paraguayan referee, Enrique Cáceres, reviewed footage of the incident for what seemed like an age before eventually showing a yellow card.
“Elbow is a red card in the rules, the rules doesn’t say if it’s Messi or Ronaldo,” said Queiroz.
VAR featured in two other key moments in the match, with a penalty awarded for each side after video review. Ronaldo’s penalty, early in the second half, was saved, while Iran’s late, controversial penalty was converted with aplomb by Karim Ansarifard. The goal cancelled out Ricardo Quaresma’s opener but was not
enough for Iran, serving only to send Portugal into the harder section of the draw and pushing Spain top of the group on goal difference.
The equaliser did lead to a frantic last few minutes, in which Iran pushed for a second goal that would have taken them through. For a brief moment half the stadium thought Iran had found an unlikely winner but Mehdi Taremi’s shot had hit the side-netting; and then it was all over.
The decisive moment of skill in the match came not from Ronaldo but from Quaresma, who just before half-time curled a superb shot with the outside of his boot across the keeper, Alireza Beiranvand, and into the top corner from the corner of the area. Beiranvand, whose diving arm was just shy of the ball, looked sickened, but in reality there was little he could
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have done to stop the shot.
The first half-hour include many crunching tackles and few clear-cut chances, with the Iranians in particular looking tense due to the importance of the game. This was most visible on the 10-minute mark, after a mix-up between Beiranvand and Saeid Ezatolahi, with the player sliding in to clear just as his goalkeeper was approaching to scoop up the ball. Instead the loose ball fell to João Mário. He shot over but Beiranvand shoved Ezatolahi in the chest and yelled some choice words at him. Soon afterwards Beiranvand spilled what should have been a routine cross and was lucky the ball broke to his own player.
Iran tackled hard and, for the most part in the first half, fairly. Alireza Jahanbakhsh caused Portugal problems down the right on Iran’s occasional forays forward and Raphaël Guerreiro got a booking for bringing him down just outside the box.
The goal, just before half-time, led Iranian heads to droop and briefly quelled the endless din of vuvuzelas inside the stadium, where Iran fans predominated. However, they were buoyed soon after the restart. Ronaldo had a leg clipped by Ezatolahi just inside the penalty area. The referee was having none of it and in a pre-VAR world Ronaldo’s reputation for falling easily would have meant that was the end of the matter.
But the men in the VAR room soon signalled to the referee that he ought to have a look again. On seeing the replay he had no choice but to award Portugal the penalty, the protests of the Iranians leading to nothing but a booking for Ehsan Hajsafi. Beiranvand, who had looked dodgy all night, made amends with a brilliant save, starting off in a position behind his goal-line and bouncing forward.
The saved penalty drew tremendous cheers from the Iranian fans and spurred the team on to a period of attacking. Saman Ghoddos, on for Jahanbakhsh, who had faded out of the game in the
second half, scuffed a low shot just wide of a post but for the most part Portugal were in control and the great roars that accompanied every Iran attack became less frequent.
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