Wales suffered a huge blow to their hopes of making the knockout stages of the World Cup, after late goals from Roozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian condemned them to defeat against a greatly improved Iran.
After an even first half Iran had looked the more likely during the second period, however Wales hung in, and had a good chance late on when Tottenham’s Ben Davies had a powerful drive tipped over by Hossein Hosseini. However, soon after Iran hit Wales on the break and, as the impressive Mehdi Taremi raced clear, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy left his area and brought the Iranian forward down. Hennessy was dismissed, leaving Wales to see out the remaining time with ten men. Robert Page’s side looked as though they were going to weather the storm, but Iran struck in the eighth and eleventh minutes of added time to bounce back from their emphatic defeat at the hands of England.
Wales went into the game looking for victory after their morale boosting fightback against the USA. They started brightly with Kieffer Moore holding the ball up well and, although they tried to get the ball wide, Iran worked hard to prevent crosses and defended far better than they had done in their opening game. Carlos Queiroz made six changes and his side looked far more solid and offered a more dangerous threat going forward.
Wales created the first chance when Moore, in the starting line-up after his game-changing second half display in the opening game, stretched to reach Conner Roberts’ cross from the right with his studs, but his stabbed effort was straight at Hosseini. Minutes later Roberts’ misplaced pass was seized upon by Iran and a smart combination between Ali Gholizadeh and Sardar Azmoun saw the former finish. However, he had strayed into an offside position and the goal was ruled out via VAR. Wales continued to lack the invention to break Iran down and were careless in possession, with Gareth Bale, winning a record 110th cap, often a peripheral figure.
Iran raised the tempo after the break, hitting the woodwork twice in quick succession within five minutes of the restart. First, Azmoun raced clear and crashed a right-foot shot off the post. The rebound found its way to Gholizadeh, who bent a left-footed effort off the other post. Azmoun was the first to react, but his rebound was gratefully gathered by Hennessey.
Page attempted to freshen things up and go for the win, making multiple substitutions and switching to a back-four. Iran though, continued to dangerous, with Saeid Ezatolahi bringing a diving save from Hennessey with a long-range strike.
Welsh hopes were raised when Davies had an effort from outside the area tipped away, seconds before Hennessy’s red card. His challenge, although high and reckless, was initially only shown a yellow card, the referee clearly feeling Nico Williams was providing cover. However, following a VAR check, the booking was correctly upgraded and Iran stepped up the pressure.
It looked as though Wales would hold out for a point, but substitute Cheshmi’s wonderful strike, driven into the bottom corner from 25 yards out, gave Iran a deserved lead. Wales continued to battle gamely, however as they threw men forward Iran broke quickly, and Taremi rolled in Rezaeian, who had made a lung-bursting run from the back. The Sepahan defender, impressive throughout, dinked the ball into the net to seal victory and give his side a chance of progress.
Wales’ hopes of reaching the last 16 are not over, but they face a difficult final group game against England, and even if they are successful, they are reliant on other results going their way.
Wales’ final group game, against England, takes place on Tuesday November 29 at 19.00.
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