Iran had a big chance to qualify for the next stage of the World Cup. Carlos Quieroz’s side had to beat an already eliminated Bosnia and Herzegovina and hope that Argentina defeated Nigeria. To qualify outright Iran needed to win and ensure that their goal difference was superior to Nigeria’s.
Intriguingly, the possibility of lots being drawn to separate Nigeria and Iran wasn’t out of the question. If, for example, Iran had won 1-0 and Nigeria had lost 1-0 they would have been level on points with an identical goal difference and the same number of goals scored. Ordinarily, the tiebreaker would have then been their head to head record but in this case that wouldn’t have solved anything as Iran and Nigeria drew 0-0. The last resort would have been the drawing of lots.
Maybe it was for the best that things didn’t get that far.
1. Iranian negativity handed the initiative to the Bosnians and Nigeria
It’s one thing to set up a side in a compact, defensive manner against one of the tournament favorites. It’s another thing completely to do that against a team, which has already been eliminated from the World Cup especially when three points are required.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, playing a 4-4-2, was noticeably relaxed as they confidently stroked the ball around whereas Iran once again opted to line-up in a 4-5-1 with a view of not conceding early on.
To a certain degree it was understandable that Carlos Queiroz instructed his side to start off that way so that they could have a platform to launch a concerted spell of pressure later in the game. The danger though was that the Iranians would hand too much of the initiative to Bosnia and Herzegovina and that proved to be the case.
2. Bosnia finally go with what they know
With nothing but pride to play for the Bosnians reverted to the 4-4-2 system, which served them so well in the qualifying stage. They soon assumed control of the match as they were invited to dictate the play by the Iranians, which they accepted all too readily.
The Iranians gave Miralem Pjanić the freedom of the pitch and he directed the play setting up the opening goal for Edin Džeko. The Manchester City striker drilled his shot into the corner of the net in the 23rd minute and in all fairness he and his side deserved the lead for their more positive approach.
Pjanić got himself a goal, latching on to a through ball from Tino Susić. The Roma playmaker, who was borderline offside, kept his composure to score the second in the 59th minute. The chance arose from a mistake by the Iranian defender Jalal Hosseini who gifted the ball to the Bosnians in the first place.
When the Iranians did threaten briefly to mount a comeback Bosnia simply went down to the other end in the 82nd minute and scored a third courtesy of Avdija Vršajević who was played through by Sejad Salihović.
It’s hard to gauge how well Bosnia and Herzegovina could have done if they had played a 4-4-2 against Nigeria or Argentina but they are a side that are built to go forward and attack. Had they been a little less pragmatic and more adventurous perhaps their World Cup adventure could have gone beyond the group stages.
3. Iranians struggled going forward
Once Bosnia and Herzegovina took the lead the onus was always on the Iranians to take the game to the Balkan side. Apart from an initial attack that led to a Masoud Shojaei effort cannoning off the bar almost immediately after the Bosnians took the lead and a few other forays the Iranian attack was frustratingly sterile. Their forwards were caught offside cheaply on too many occasions and at times they were more concerned trying to win free kicks in promising areas rather than holding on to the ball and developing the play. Too frequently attacks broke down as they turned over possession attempting extremely difficult through balls or crossing to no one in particular.
Iran did finally scored in the 81st minute as Reza Ghoochannejhad turned in Javad Nekounam’s cross to give themselves a glimmer of hope but that was almost immediately dashed when the Bosnians went up the other end of the pitch and struck. Incidentally, Iran’s goal meant that all 32 sides in this World Cup have scored, the first time that has happened since 1998.
If this World Cup has demonstrated anything it’s that fortune more often than not favours the teams willing to attack.
4. Asian underachievement
This has been an extremely disappointing tournament for all of the Asian sides. Australia, Japan and now Iran have been eliminated with South Korea hanging on by a thread.
Indeed the Asian teams have not recorded a single victory in this World Cup thus far.
They have earned just three points between them, scored nine goals and conceded 24. It could get even worse as South Korea face Belgium in their final group game.
No matter the excuses this World Cup has exposed the deficiencies in Asian football.
The next big engagement for Australia, Iran, South Korea and Japan is the Asia Cup in January 2015. For the sake of Asian football that tournament has to be a starting point to improve the standard of the game in the region. Asia cannot afford a repeat performance from their qualifiers when Russia 2018 comes around.
5. At least they didn’t have to draw lots
This World Cup has had everything but drawing lots would have been a tad too bizarre!
Watch the match highlights of Bosnia and Herzegovina versus Iran: