Russia 2018 Watch: Queiroz and Iran almost produce FA Cup type shock over Spain
- Credit: Archant
Read our World Cup blog which will be featuring over the coming weeks. George Sessions looks back at the final game on day seven of the competition.
Carlos Queiroz and Iran came so close to an FA Cup type result in Group B at the 2018 World Cup on Wednesday night, but Diego Costa’s fortunate goal handed Spain a narrow 1-0 victory.
Nevertheless, the performance of the country once ranked 122 in the world earned them a number of admirers and put their head coach back in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
For the first time in a long while the people of Spain were talking about Queiroz in a positive light come full time.
This, of course, was the man who managed Real Madrid to a disastrous fourth-place finish in the 2003/04 season and was duly sacked soon after the campaign finished – a dismissal which effectively ended his club managerial career.
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Although Queiroz has developed a good reputation coaching at Manchester United and in charge of Portugal and Iran, in Spain he is remembered for his ill-fated spell at Los Blancos.
Yet on Wednesday, he made sure La Roja fans were not mentioning his name alongside failure and it was also a poignant night for Iran’s female supporters as they were allowed to enter Iran’s Azadi Stadium for the first time in 37 years to watch a live screening of the match.
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The evening didn’t start so positively for Team Melli’s head coach, however, as the English broadcasting of the fixture got underway at 6.15pm.
Queiroz received a ‘glowing’ reference from both Roy Keane and Patrice Evra before the game on ITV… getting the former Man United captain to reveal one of his biggest regrets – the fact he didn’t rip Queiroz’s head off during an argument about loyalty.
The Irishman did go on to insist he was an “excellent coach and is doing an excellent job with Iran” before Evra chipped in with his own memories.
He claimed Queiroz was someone who never smiled and was difficult as a person, but did praise his training session and the way he helped him settle at Old Trafford.
After such positive tributes, it was over to Iran to see if they could show their 65-year-old head coach in a better light.
Anyone expecting a walk-over would have been pleasantly surprised to see Spain lose possession inside a minute and get put on the back foot within five minutes.
Iran won a free kick in a dangerous position and although they couldn’t do anything with it, it showed the Asians were not going to roll over lightly.
The support they were receiving in Kazan was no doubt lifting them too with every touch greeted with enormous cheers.
With 20 minutes on the clock the possession stakes were 69 per cent in favour of La Roja and even Clyde Tyldesley remarked it was an attack vs defence training session.
But Iran continued to frustrate Spain with Alireza Beiranvand denying David Silva from a free kick, despite a deflection, and the Manchester City playmaker hooking an effort over on the half an hour mark.
Queiroz saw his team enjoy a rare foray into the opposition half 10 minutes before the break when they were gifted a throw. Less than 60 seconds later they won a corner, but there was to be no shock just yet.
Costa took centre stage soon after and in typical fashion it involved controversy as he caught Beiranvand’s foot, but it was adjudged not to be a stamp by referee Andres Cunha and probably rightly so.
It was an incident which saw more seconds tick away, but Spain went ever so close in stoppage time when Silva’s deflected effort sailed wide and with that the first half was brought to a close.
All of possession and yet no goals to show for it as Iran had held out until the interval and as Tyldesley so perfectly put it moments before – it was like watching a boxer waiting for the bell.
This was a mismatch if ever there was one and yet the heavyweight was yet to land the knock-out punch!
Half time allowed me the chance to reflect on why I absolutely love this type of contest - David against Goliath, the underdog versus the heavy favourite.
Some will find it boring watching one team put 11 men behind the ball in an attempt to stop the opposition, but football would be dull if the best side always triumphed.
Iran have qualified for the World Cup just as fairly as Spain and who says the former have to play a certain way.
This is their style and fair play to them and as the second half got underway, it was apparently all about whether ‘good would triumph over evil?’
In the 49th minute ‘the good’ nearly went ahead when first Gerard Pique saw an effort cleared off the line.
Beiranvand then had to deny Sergio Busquests from outside the area, but got the save wrong and invited Lucas Vazquez to slide in.
Fortunately for the Iran number one he managed to knock the ball away and then Iran hit the La Roja net.
A long throw was headed out to Olympiacos’ Karim Ansarifard and his strike made the net ripple. Had it happened?
Had Iran taken the lead?! Despite a large chunk of the fans inside the stadium believing so, the effort had hit the side-netting.
Even ITV’s Tyldesley thought it was in for a moment and just as Queiroz could start to dream, it was quickly snatched away.
Spain attacked again and in the 54th minute, seconds after Iran had gone so close, the ball did end up in the back of the net.
It was incredibly unfortunate as Ramin Rezaeian came across to clear and knocked his clearance against Costa and it ricocheted past Beiranvand to give La Roja the lead.
Anyone that said it hadn’t been coming was lying and now it was going to be like all the usual FA Cup game where a favourite takes the lead and the floodgates open. Right?
Well not exactly as all of a sudden Iran began to attack and attack and then it happened – the unthinkable happened. They did find the back of the net.
A free kick was floated into the Spain area and after another ricochet it dropped for Saeid Ezatolahi and he fired past David de Gea.
The Iranian wheeled off in celebrations and was joined by many of the backroom staff on the pitch, but the joy was short-lived – cue VAR.
As if Video Assistant Referee wasn’t unpopular enough, it was now about to rule out Iran’s equaliser for offside.
In fairness it was the right call and so Spain continued to hold the lead, but the FA Cup feel to the game didn’t stop there.
With 70 on the clock cue the biggest of goalmouth scrambles with a combination of substitute Milad Mohammadi and Rezaeian somehow preventing Pique and Costa from forcing the ball home on the goaline.
It was the latest chapter in this classic World Cup game and as the game went into the final 10 minutes what was going to be written into the closing pages?
Almost a moment of pure beauty was nearly the answer when Vahid Amiri produced a sensational nutmeg on Pique and whipped in a wonderful cross.
Up leaped Mehdi Taremi and with a free header and only de Gea to beat from six-yards, the header went over.
What a chance Iran had wasted and surely that was to be their last with 82 on the clock and Spain not about to give away any more opportunities.
As the seconds ticked away, Tyldesley did remind everyone why no matter what the result Queiroz could be proud.
Iran, even if they were going to lose, would still be in the tournament heading into their last game with Portugal.
There were plenty of weary bodies on the pitch, but the Iran supporters were still making plenty of noise and it increased some more when four minutes of stoppage time was added on.
Unfortunately for Team Melli there was to be no more late drama as the full time whistle soon followed to hand them a 1-0 defeat in their Universe Cup Final.
Spain, deservedly so, had claimed the three points, but Iran had made their country proud and Queiroz had ensured everyone in Spain now knew his name again for all the right reasons despite the loss for his team.