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Iran misses chance to Word Cup round of 16 after draw with Portugal

(Xinhua)    08:51, June 26, 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Portugal competes during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group B match between Iran and Portugal in Saransk, Russia, June 25, 2018. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

SARANSK, Russia, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Iran fought to the last moment and only narrowly missed the chance to reach the knockout phase of World Cup after a draw with Portugal 1-1 here Monday night.

Despite the fact that the Portuguese dominated the ball throughout the match, the Iranians showed the world their spectacular spirit by levelling the score 1-1 in the 93rd minute and almost scored the winner a minute later but only to see the ball hit the side netting.

With five points from two draws and one win, Portugal take the second place of Group B to qualify for the round of 16, while Spain top the list with equal points but one more goal, and Iran are the third with four points.

Monday's match was decisive for both sides to reach the knockout phase. While Portugal only needed a draw, Iran had to win to progress.

In face of the strong Portuguese side playing 4-4-2 formation with star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran started with the 4-5-1 formation to boost defense.

The Portuguese were pressing hard from the very beginning and made their first threat to the Iranian goal just two minutes into the match, with Ronaldo making a shot after meeting a pass from Joao Mario only to see the goal confiscated by the alert Ali Beiranvand of Iran.

Iran also had their chances. In the 7th minute, Vahid Amiri made an attempt at the Portuguese goal after meeting a pass from Alireza Jahanbakhsh but the ball went just wide.

In the 22nd minute, Sardar Azmoun made a long pass to the running Jahanbakhsh, and Rui Patricio of Portugal was brisk enough to intercept the ball.

Ronaldo, who has scored all four of Portugal's previous goals in Russia, was heavily marked by the Iranian side.

The deadlock was broken in the 45th minute, when Ricardo Quaresma put Portugal ahead 1-0 after he capitalized on the open space left by the Iranians and curved the ball into the left upper corner of the net past the fingertips of the Iranian goalkeeper.

After switching side, the Portuguese emerged with more attacking spirits and left Iran little space and chance, but the Iranians continued their fights to level the score.

Ronaldo could have expanded the lead for Portugal when he was awarded a penalty with the help of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system in the 51st minute, but Iran keeper Beiranvand made a superb save.

The same VAR system showed Ronaldo with a foul against Iranian player Morteza Pouraliganji and caused the Portuguese captain to get a yellow card in the 83rd minute.

In the 93rd minute, Iran was awarded a penalty after a handball of Portugal's Cedric and Karim Ansarifard drove the ball into the right upper corner of the net past the diving Patricio.

Still in the stoppage time, while the Portuguese were still at a loss for the unexpected draw, Iran took the chance and launched a final attack, when Mehdi Taremi met a pass from a teammate and kicked the ball into the side netting.

"It was a football game that we honored and we brought prestige to the World Cup," said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz at the post-match press conference.

He added that his players had the discipline and the attitude and should have been the winner of the game.

"It's such a big disappointment for us. We created some chances but unfortunately, we didn't score. We had a big chance at the end of the game, we could have scored and won it," said Iranian player Alireza Jahanbakhsh.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said that his team turned out better though Iran had their own merits.

"The important thing is to think about the (Round-of-16) match, to get to know your adversaries and then to get well prepared mentally and physically," said Santos.

As runner-up of Group B, Portugal will take on Uruguay in the knockout phase.

"Uruguay have high quality and top-notch players and they're all excellent - but Portugal too. We have our weapons and we're going to try to win," said Santos.

It was the second encounter of Iran and Portugal at a World Cup tournament, with Portugal beating Iran 2-0 in their previous meeting at the Germany 2006 group stage.

An interesting fact is that Ronaldo was the only one on the pitch now that played that match 12 years ago and scored Portugal's second goal in that match at the age of 21.

Some 41,000 spectators attended Monday's match at the 44,000-seat Mordovia Arena, among which Iran fans largely outnumbered Portugal supporters.

After the game ended, the fans gave their applause to the Iranian players staying on the pitch at a loss and sad for their missed chance and hugging each other.

KEY WORDS: World Cup

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(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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