AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Iran played Wales thoroughly for 85 minutes on Friday and had absolutely nothing to show. They were sharper. They were more dangerous. They had four shots on target – not counting the two posts they hit in the second half – and 19 in total, but they failed to get the goal so deserved.
Then a mad moment from Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey changed everything:
Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey turned red
Wales’ Wayne Hennessey receives a red card after an awkward clash with Iran’s Mehdi Taremi in the 86th minute.
Iran played more than anything to open the tournament after their humiliating 6-2 loss to Group B favorites England. For a country that has never reached the knockout stage in five previous World Cup appearances, Iran seemed destined to go home early.
But in the 86th minute of a goalless game, Hennessey ran wide from his penalty area to try and thwart a counter-attack led by Team Mellis Mehdi Taremi. Hennessey arrived late and crashed into Taremi instead. Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar was shown a yellow card; With a Welsh defender being traced, the real-time professional foul seemed to warrant no more than a warning.
That’s where the video assistant referee came into play.
Replays showed Hennessey’s flying leg ruthlessly hit Taremi in the face. His knee caught the striker’s jaw. VAR asked Escobar to take a second look; Using slow motion, there was no doubt it was a reckless, violent game played by the Nottingham Forest Backstop.
It was clear Wales would be reduced to 10 men even before Escobar signaled the cancellation of the caution and flashed the red card instead.
With nine minutes of added time, granted in part because of the delay, Iran had time to seal all three points. However, wave after wave of attacks fizzled out as Wales hung on for their lives. The Welsh even had a couple of half-chances to win it themselves as Iran threw almost every player on the field forward in a desperate search for the winner.
As the clock steadily approached the 99th minute, it looked like it was going to be 0-0. But with about 90 seconds to go, substitute Roozbeh Cheshmi pulled in a long shot from outside the box, beating Wales backup and settling into the far post.
It was no less than Iran deserved.
Highlights between Wales and Iran
In the closing stages of the game, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey received a red card after colliding with a player. Iran benefited from goals from Roozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian in added time.
A second goal from right-back Ramin Rezaeian before the final whistle set the exclamation mark and gave Team Melli only their third win in 16 World Cup games.
The dramatic victory gave a temporary boost to Iran, whose players and coaches were understandably distracted by the anti-government protests and violent crackdown on them by the autocratic regime that were roiling their country at home.
But this was a victory for the players, some of whom have openly criticized the country’s leadership at great personal risk, as well as for the Iranian diaspora around the world.
With three points, Iran is now at least temporarily behind England in second place in the table.
The Three Lions meet the United States later on Friday in one of the first round marquee games. Iran, who defeated the US in 1998 in the only last duel of political rivals on a global scale, meets the Americans on Tuesday to end the Group B game.
United States Opportunities Breakdown
The FIFA World Cup Now crew take a look at the Group B standings following Iran’s win over Wales. The United States controls its own destiny with a win or a draw against England.
Another win would be enough for Iran to progress and make history, regardless of the outcome of the game between England and Wales that kicked off at the same time.
However, that is a story for another day.
Until at least tomorrow, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and his players will no doubt be focused on enjoying Friday’s triumph – a triumph that might not have happened were it not for Hennessey’s game-changing dismissal.
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