Iran picked up a crucial and historic win over Wales at Ahmad Ali Stadium on matchday two of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
This is Iran’s first-ever victory over a European squad on the grand stage. Ultimately, it was a tremendous win for Team Melli, earning three points in Group B. More importantly, it keeps the side well in the hunt to reach the knockout stages.
Iran gains redemption
Rob Page’s high-risk 3-5-2 engaged with Carlos Queiroz’s flat 4-4-1-1. The Portuguese manager assigned Mehdi Taremi as ‘second-forward’, with Sardar Azmoun tasked as the ‘lone striker’.
The first half was even with box-to-box play until Iran unleashed a plethora of offensive playmaking.
Early doors, Iran displays their creativity first. Wales expected Iran to let loose, discharging shots. As a result, they hunkered down with an insufficient defense.
Inaccurate crosses from Sepahan defender Ramin Rezaeian revealed a constant theme of locating Azmoun amid aerial play. The Bayer Leverkusen striker has fresh legs on sprints as he fights through a strained calf muscle.
Then, a sharp cross from Connor Roberts to Bournemouth striker Kieffer Moore was saved instinctually by goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini from Esteghlal FC. In the 15th minute, an egregious horizontal pass by Roberts was turned over, leading to a ‘3 v 2’ triangle attack from Iran. However, Charleroi midfielder Ali Gholizadeh was caught offside.
To no avail, Wales penetrated Iran’s final third on dozens of entries. Despite that, Iran’s relentless counters caused threats, especially since Welsh defenders offered too much space for Iran’s midfield to maneuver during transitional ‘hold-up play.’
Iran finds a win over Wales
Iran did not hesitate to attack Wales’ goalmouth, saved by the post – twice. First, a sensational ‘through-ball’ from Captain Ehsan Hajsafi found Azmoun on a breakaway. However, his shot deflected off the near post. Then, a deflection ensued; a sharp ‘inside-foot curve’ slotted by Gholizadeh, bouncing off the woodwork.
Iran continues to blast shots. Wayne Hennessey denied Saeed Ezatolahi’s attempt. The Welsh goalkeeper was later ejected due to a hazardous challenge upon Mehdi Taremi.
Wales answered with Ben Davies cracking a shot. However, he overpowered his boot, causing him to lean back, shanked over the crossbar.
Iran’s resiliency pierced through. Team Melli showed incredible poise intermixed with determination. As a result, they refused to settle for the draw, and strived to win.
Finally, after a scoreless 90+ minutes, two Iranian defenders proved to be ‘big-game’ players in stoppage time – first, a brilliant shot from Esteghlal FC center-back Rouzbeh Cheshmi, 1-0.
Then, a counterattack was finished by Sepahan defender Ramin Rezaeian, 2-0. Together, the Persian Pro League mainstays have etched their names in Iran’s 100-year soccer history.
In his latest press release, Iran boss Carlos Queiroz declared, with conviction, that “All the national teams have issues at home.”
Queiroz alluded to being a victim of media bias. In other words, he claims international colleagues are not questioned about domestic struggles in their respective nations, while Team Melli gets bombarded with politics.
“Strangely, you don’t ask the same questions to other coaches and national teams,” Queiroz proclaimed. “Knowing that they have so many problems at home.” Queiroz declared Iranian “players are not the enemies” and that his players are soccer purists. “Our boys are simple football boys.”
The unlocked ‘door-bolt’ against England caused Queiroz to employ a fluid formation against Wales. This strategy offered steady ‘positional play’ for four ‘chance creators’ in the midfield. Further, the addition of Sardar Azmoun interchanged the role of ‘lone striker.’ Against England, Mehdi Taremi was the No. 9. However, against Wales, he transitioned into a ‘second-forward’ role, providing service and offering support.
Although, for Wales, when numerical superiority occurs with ‘opposing forwards,’ management typically calls for a defensive shift among ‘chance creators.’ Nevertheless, the Welsh backline lacked an extra defender. Ultimately, Carlos Queiroz appointing Taremi as a ‘false-nine’ served as an effective decoy.
Two wingers and chance creators
Frequently, Alireza Jahanbakhsh plays ‘wide right’ in the flat midfield. Although, as he presses, ‘lone striker’ Sardar Azmoun drags defenders out of position, creating space for vertical runs. As a result, wingers like Ramin Rezaeian took advantage of gaps using field-width during ‘positional play.’
Unfortunately, Alireza Jahanbakhsh conceded a consecutive yellow card. Therefore, he will be absent on matchday three against the USMNT.
odds to advance
With the sublime win over Wales, Iran regains its honor. Since this Welsh side consists mainly of English Premier League players, Team Melli football can hold their heads high. However, they must be cautious and not get overconfident like ‘Iran 1978.’ That team did not respect matchday three against Peru. It behooves Carlos Queiroz to respect the tactical and technical abilities of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT.
All signs point toward an unrelenting matchday three. USMNT vs. Iran: Part II. However, Iran could still advance from Group B with a draw, pinning them at four points. Therefore, as it stands, the ‘must-win’ pressure in that match is on the USMNT.
PHOTO: IMAGO / AFLOSPORT
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