Team Queiroz Leaves With Grace

Hats off to the brave Iranian players and their coach who fought courageously in front of world, Europe and Africa champions, earned four points, conceded only two goals in three games, and kept one clean sheet in the tournament
Team Queiroz Leaves With GraceTeam Queiroz Leaves With Grace

Team Melli bowed out from the 2018 FIFA World Cup with their heads high after a draw with Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Russia.

According to multiple sources, Iran controlled its own destiny on Monday. It entered the match with three points, having won Morocco and resisted fiercely against Spain losing by just one goal.

The Iranians were going up against Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best soccer player in the world who scored all of his team’s four goals in the previous two games in the tournament, and Portugal, the European champion in 2016.

But Iran had a chance of advancing to the next round if only it could win and the team came this close to do so as it was just inches away from a World Cup dream.

It was a frenetic start from both sides, with Iran pushing to cause Portugal problems and having plenty of chances on the counter.

Iran was well organized at the back and defended stoically but did not have enough men going forward in the first half.

Carlos Queiroz’s men relied mostly on counter attacks and while forward Sardar Azmoun showed plenty of glimpses of his talent, it was not enough to trouble the Portuguese.

On the stroke of halftime, Portugal’s winger Ricardo Quaresma played a one-two with Adrien Silva to cut in from the right flank and curled the ball past the outstretched hands of Alireza Beiranvand with the outside of his boot.

Ronaldo had the chance to double the lead five minutes into the second half after he was upended by Saeid Ezatolahi, with a spot-kick awarded following consultation with the video assistant referee.

But the Portugal captain was denied by Beiranvand who dived to his left to smother Ronaldo’s attempt.

Queiroz remonstrated angrily with the officials as Mehdi Taremi appeared to be impeded by William Carvalho inside the area.

There was no VAR intervention on that occasion, but the Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres trotted over to the pitchside monitor after an altercation between Ronaldo and Morteza Pouraliganji.

Ronaldo caught the Iran defender with a forearm across the face, causing Pouraliganji fall to the ground in a heap as the Portugal forward ultimately survived a red card (which many believe he deserved) and escaped with a yellow card.

Iran earned a stoppage-time penalty when Azmoun’s header struck the arm of Cedric Soares after the pair contested a deep cross.

The referee used VAR to rule that Portugal’s player had handled the ball in the box.

Striker Karim Ansarifard converted the penalty on the 93rd minute to set up a dramatic finish.

A minute later and with time running out, Iran had a golden chance to win the game and knock Portugal out when Taremi could have snatched a stunning winner on the 94th minute after a deflected shot rolled into his path, but he fired into the side netting as Iran fell agonizingly short.

So the battling Iran held Portugal to a 1-1 draw but it was not enough for Team Melli to reach the knockout phase for the first time during its five appearances at the World Cup.

Iran finished third in a tough Group B with four points after Spain and Portugal on five points apiece. Portugal goes through but will have the trickier task of facing Group A winner Uruguay.

Team Melli is eliminated, nevertheless, hats off to the brave Iranian players and their coach who fought courageously in front of world, Europe and Africa champions, earned four points (the highest in five World Cup presences), conceded only two goals in three games, and kept one clean sheet in the tournament.

  Spain Tops Group B

In the other match of the group in Kaliningrad, Spain came from behind to eke out a 2-2 tie with Morocco, topping Group B.

Despite another labored performance, Spain stumbled its way to the summit of Group B by the end of the evening, setting up a last 16 clash with host Russia.

Spain was a bit nervy and it showed in the back as miscommunication between Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta gifted the opening goal to Khalid Boutaib, who swooped in and picked the ball off right in front of the two before slotting home past goalkeeper David De Gea to hand Morocco a shock 1-0 lead.

The reaction from Spain was immediate. Just five minutes later La Roja pulled back level 1-1 with a fine sequence of passing that ended with Iniesta finding Isco, who powered in the equalizer.

Still, the Spain defense looked out of sorts and off a throw-in Boutaib almost scored his second but was denied by De Gea. Spain was mostly in control though and almost took a lead right before half-time only to see Diego Costa fail to connect with Iniesta’s cross.

Amrabat issued a warning early in the second half that Morocco was not about to go away, as the Leganes man rocketed a swerving right-footer that banged off the crossbar and out.

La Roja also had a chance to take the lead in the first part of the second stanza when an Isco header looked goalbound, but Morocco defender Romain Saiss’ last-gasp headed clearance kept things level.

Spain’s coach Fernando Hierro turned to his bench in search of a spark and a second goal, with Iago Aspas replacing Costa and Marco Asensio on for Thiago. The introduction of the pair did little to change the tone of the match. Spain still looked slow and tired, with little punch to their attack.

Spain’s failure to take advantage of possession would prove costly. With just 10 minutes remaining and on one of the few ventures forward for the Morocco attack, substitute Youssef En-Nesyri of Malaga beat Ramos in the air on a corner kick and smacked a header past De Gea to give Morocco a stunning 2-1 lead. With little time to respond, Hierro quickly made his third change, hauling off David Silva for Rodrigo.

Spain threw everything at its opponent and in stoppage time Dani Carvajal connected with Aspas, who used a backheel to redirect in the Real Madrid man’s cross. Initially the Celta striker was adjudged to be offside, but VAR said otherwise and the goal stood, giving Spain the 2-2 result and top spot in the group.

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