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From Russia with love: Ronaldo penalty fear keeps Iran alive

Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand had flashbacks of facing a chest-puffing Cristiano Ronaldo before saving a first-minute penalty that kept his team’s Asian Cup challenge alive.

The talismanic 26-year-old denied Oman captain Ahmed Al-Mahaijri to spark a 2-0 victory in Abu Dhabi at the weekend, sending title-chasing Iran into the quarter-finals.

But Beiranvand revealed that memories of keeping out Ronaldo’s spot kick in a 1-1 draw with Portugal at last year’s World Cup had helped him prevent a disastrous start against Oman.

“Ever since saving that kick from Cristiano, Iran fans expect me to save penalties,” Beiranvand told AFP after the game.

“I actually did think about that moment for a fraction of a second — I told myself I can’t let everybody think what happened in Russia was a fluke,” he added.

“I just tried to concentrate and tried to repeat it again at a different tournament. First and foremost, it’s my duty to save penalties and help the team.

“But the way I look at my career at the moment, there’s no limit to my dreams.”

Video emerged after the match of Iran forward Sardar Azmoun pointing to the goalkeeper’s right before Al-Mahaijri stepped up to shoot.

“I had already decided to dive that way,” insisted Beiranvand. “But when Sardar gave me the sign I was 100 percent sure.”

A poacher’s goal from Brighton forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh and an Ashkan Dejagah penalty were ultimately enough for Iran as the Asian Cup co-favourites advanced to face China in the last eight.

– Title heartache –

Iran, Asia’s top-ranked side, have failed to win Asian football’s most coveted prize since 1976 — an anomaly Beiranvand admitted causes the “Team Melli” players some heartache.

“We think about it every single day to be honest,” he nodded. “Inside our hearts it is one of our biggest dreams.

“And after 43 years it’s one of the biggest dreams of the Iranian people in terms of sport, so we definitely think about it.”

Beiranvand found fame at the World Cup when he revealed he had run away from his nomad family and worked in a car wash and as a street cleaner before making it as a footballer, often forced to sleep on the streets of Tehran.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz makes no secret of his admiration for his giant goalkeeper.

“That penalty save kept us in the game,” said the former Real Madrid boss. “Ali gives us more confidence and tranquility to play our attacking game. We love Ali, he has a big heart and an amazing spirit.”

Beiranvand tipped Iran to go all the way.

“After the way we played in Russia, the expectation is that we make a run at it here,” he said.

“We’ve been the top-ranked team in Asia for a long time now, so hopefully we can top it off by winning the Asian Cup. We want to make our country proud.”

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