Iran produced a stirring display in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Portugal but it proved to be in vain as they were eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Heading into the Group B game at the Mordovia Arena knowing they needed a win to secure their place in the Round of 16, the Iranians initially fell behind courtesy of a sublime strike from Ricardo Quaresma on the stroke of halftime.
However, in injury-time, Karim Ansarifard netted an equaliser from the penalty spot to set up a grandstand finish and Team Melli even had one final golden opportunity to snatch all three points.
In the end, they just came up short as Portugal advanced with Group B winners Spain, but no one would discredit Iran for their indomitable displays in a group that was supposed to be a foregone conclusion.
Given what was at stake, it was perhaps understandable that the Iranians made a nervy start to the contest, with goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand dropping a couple of routine catches that put his defence under unnecessary pressure.
Still, they were – by and large – able to keep the dangerous Portugal attack, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, at bay until the 45th minute.
Picking up possession on the right, Quaresma played a neat one-two with Adrien Silva before producing his trademark outside-of-the-foot strike that arrowed beyond Beiranvand’s reach and into the back of the net.
The Portuguese then had the perfect opportunity to kill of the tie six minutes after the restart when – upon review with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) – they were awarded a penalty after Ronaldo had his heel clipped by Saeid Ezatolahi inside the area.
Ronaldo entered the match with four goals already to his name but he was unable to make it five, as Beiranvand brilliantly guessed the right way to keep out his spot-kick.
As the game entered its closing stages, Iran upped the intensity in a bid to get back into the contest.
An excellent chest-down by Sardar Azmoun in the 72nd minute found Saman Ghoddos but the substitute could only pull his shot wide after trying his luck from the edge of the box.
Then, the real drama arrived in the 90th minute when an Azmoun header was handled in the box by Cedric, with the referee once again pointing to the spot after consulting the VAR.
Where Ronaldo had failed, Ansarifard succeeded as he drove the ball into the top corner with aplomb to give his side a glimmer of home.
A minute later, Iran’s final chance arrived when another Azmoun knock-on found Ghoddos as his snapshot took a deflection and rolled kindly into the path of Mehdi Taremi.
But, with Rui Patricio coming out the confront him, a defender closing in and the angle getting increasingly acute, Taremi was only able to lash a shot into the side-netting.
Moments later, the final whistle blew and, although it may be Portugal who are celebrating a place in the knockout round, Iran – when the dust settles – can celebrate an outstanding display at Russia 2018.
— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) June 25, 2018
IRAN: Alireza Beiranvand, Ramin Rezaeian, Morteza Pouraliganji, Majid Hosseini, Ehsan Hajsafi (Milad Mohammadi 56’), Saeid Ezatolahi (Karim Ansarifard 76’), Omid Ebrahimi, Vahid Amiri, Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Saman Ghoddos 70’), Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun.
PORTUGAL: Rui Patricio, Cedric, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro, Ricardo Quaresma (Bernardo Silva 70’), Adrien Silva, William Carvalho, Joao Mario (Joao Moutinho 84’), Andre Silva (Goncalo Guedes 90+6’), Cristiano Ronaldo.