The twists and turns of the Qatar World Cup just keep on coming. Today (November 25) was the beginning of the second round of group games, starting in Group B where Wales expected to brush aside an Iranian side apparently in disarray, following their 6-2 thrashing by England, on top of the major issues currently unravelling back in their home country.
Not for the first time in this tournament a side paid the price for massively disrespecting their opponents, as the Middle Eastern outfit completely outplayed their European adversaries. They had to wait until stoppage time, but Iran thoroughly deserved their two late goals to secure a 2-0 victory, and in the process reignite their own World Cup, whilst leaving the Welsh’s hanging by a thread.
Lessons learned but seemingly ignored
Wales had been completely out of sorts against the USA in their first match and were very lucky to still be in the game at half time in that one. The introduction of Kieffer Moore had allowed them to drag themselves back into that match and they managed to win a late penalty to escape with a fortunate draw. Manager Rob Page declared they had learned from that performance and there was an air of over-confidence about the entire squad coming into the fixture with troubled Iran.
Arrogance and over-confidence in evidence
Although only one place above their opponents in the World rankings, Wales looked as if the comfortable manner of England’s trouncing had given them the impression that they only need to turn up, and a win was all but theirs. How wrong they were. Iran pretty much dominated from start to finish, and it was noticeable in the body-language of the Welsh players that they were shocked at the level of play that the Iranians were producing.
Boos from the stands at the anthom
Iran’s players had refused to sing their national anthem in their first game as a show of defiance and support for anti-government protests in their country, but this time around the opted to sing. However, on this occasion it was the masses in the stands that showed their anger by booing throughout, with emotions very obviously extremely heightened.
Bale miles off the pace
Wales managed to get to half time level, but this time Moore was already on the pitch, so there was not the possibility of a lift arriving from that source. They needed their talisman Gareth Bale and the much hyped Aaron Ramsey to step up, but both were conspicuous by their absense throughout the contest.
“Assault” reduced Welsh to ten men
Backed by a passionate crowd, Iran sensed that they were the better side and tore into their ragged opponents and were desperately unfortunate not to score early into the second period. Twice within five seconds the struck a different post as Wales were made to look second rate.
Then just as it looked as if they may be able to cling onto a completely undeserved point, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was quite rightly sent off for what amounted to almost an assault on Mehdi Taremi, wiping him out with a head high challenge, thirty yards from goal.
Referee outrageously initially indicates yellow
Incredibly, the referee initially only saw it as a yellow card offence, but having been urged to take a look at the pitch-side monitor, he quickly changed the card’s colour to red, and Wales knew they would need to cling on even more than they already had been. Memories of Harold Schumacher’s horrific attack on Patrick Battiston back in 1982 came flooding back in that challenge, but thankfully Taremi was not seriously hurt.
Two late goals seal deserved victory
Nine minutes of stoppage time was signalled and this was to prove crucial. In the eighth of those minutes substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi struck from 20 yards, lashing into the bottom corner to prompt wild celebrations. As Wales tried to rally, they lost possession, as they had done so often all afternoon, and Ramin Rezaeian finished off a counter-attack to seal victory for a revitalised Iran side, who have renewed hope of reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
Poor performances or just poor?
The Welsh looked shattered, but in truth they simply have not looked anywhere near capable of making an impression on the tournament. Too many of their players look sub-standard even when compared against players from seemingly weaker nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, and now Iran.
Coach upbeat and proud
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz obviously was delighted, but stressed that they needed to finish the job. “I do not have words to say thank you to the players, they were brilliant and deserve all the respect they will now get”, he said immediately after their fabulous victory.
He added that the team had played with amazing character, unity, and cohesion and that the win gives them a route back into the tournament. He felt that after the England game his side had lost some dignity and honour, so the victory against Wales had gone some way to restoring those.
Wales have no excuses
The Welsh manager Rob Page accepted that the levels were not of the required standards and said too many of his team had an “off day”. That is a huge understatement and massively papers over some enormous cracks that have become evident in the first two games.
He took responsibility, but couldn’t resist pointing towards the sending off, when he highlighted that they were going for the victory at that stage of the game and had five forwards on the pitch, although to a neutral observer, that was not obvious from their play.
Skipper still believes
Wales captain Gareth Bale admitted that the squad was in his words “gutted”, claiming they fought to the end, but in truth that was not always evident, as Iran often had it too easy. Quality sometimes tells in games, but the Welsh should have been on a par, but looked a class below.
He acknowledged that qualification would now be very difficult, but committed to giving it their all; unfortunately, on the evidence of the first two games, that sadly for them will be nowhere near enough.
Praying for an English victory
Both of these nations will anxiously be looking towards the other game in the group later tonight, when England face the USA, with a win for England probably suiting both of them. Incredibly, after a six goal defeat, Iran are currently sitting in second spot, and could find themselves still there going into their showdown with the Americans next week.
Either way they have recovered magnificently, and have given themselves a great chance at progressing.
Early flight home now looks inevitable
Wales on the other hand, will have to beat their British neighbours to get through, so possibly their best hope is for the English to rest a few of their established performers, in favour of several fringe players, then within an atmosphere of a “local derby” they could maybe find a result.
It is a long shot though, because even England’s back up eleven look far too strong for this Welsh team and an early flight look the most likely.