Wales were clearly second best against Iran and eventually slumped to defeat after scoring two added-time goals
Wales 0-2 Iran (Cheshmi 90+8, Rezaeian 90+12′)
After taking 58 years to salute that grand old stage, Wales’ dream of reaching the knockout rounds of the World Cup lies in tatters after a dramatic encounter against Iran ended in an agonizing defeat in stoppage time ended.
Wayne Hennessey’s late red card preceded Roozbeh Cheshmi’s long-range effort in the eighth minute of stoppage time in what Iran deserved least for a dominant display at Al Rayyan before Ramin Rezaeian a few minutes later in second place as Rob Page’s 10-man Welsh Misere still reinforced side pushed forward in search of compensation.
The Wales tournament isn’t over yet but they need to improve significantly against England on Tuesday while hoping results elsewhere go their way.
Wales must have wondered why Iran saved that level of performance for them and not England after being met with fierce pressing and no lack of quality from their opponents. The inclusion of Sardar Azmoun from the start certainly helped the Iranians as he and attacking partner Medhi Taremi gave the Welshmen plenty to think about with their clever moves and combination play.
Azmoun’s decision-making suited Wales early on, however, as he faced Ali Gholizadeh to tap into an empty goal rather than shoot himself while his team-mate was clearly in an offside position. Iran looked more likely to open the gate, but more often than not they faced a red wall as Welsh bodies hurled themselves in the path in what resembled a gunshot.
Hennessey’s goal was obviously to live a charmed life. Within 15 seconds, both Azmoun and Gholizadeh had smashed the post before the Welsh keeper made a save from point-blank range on the ground. The experienced shot-stopper also made a delicate fingertip intervention to deny Saeid Ezatolahi while Wales held on desperately.
After playing an important role in Wales’ defense, Hennessey put his team in a difficult position late on by being sent off for a hasty attack on Taremi after going off goal. Initially he appeared to have gotten away with his impression of Harald Schumacher but it was only temporary respite as VAR stepped in to upgrade his yellow card to red.
As before Iran’s opening game against England, and in every game played by Carlos Queiroz’s side at the tournament, it was impossible to focus solely on football. The players looked visibly uncomfortable as they murmured the words of the national anthem, which was cheered and whistled by tearful supporters in the stands.
Another fan Yasi he spoke to I‘s Mark Douglas during the England game and asked that her surname not be released also appeared to have a t-shirt with Mahsa Amini’s name on it, which was confiscated by a security guard at the stadium.
Wayne Hennessy: Perhaps a surprise starter given his lack of minutes for Nottingham Forest and Danny Ward’s impressive new form for Leicester, but initially justified his manager’s confidence. In the right place at the right time to thwart Azmoun after Gholizadeh’s attempt rebounded over the post in the striker’s path, but stopped far more deliberately to deflect a shot wide from Saeid Ezatolahi. Undoed his good work by being sent off – after a VAR check – for a wild karate kick at Taremi after maniacally charging out of his goal. 6/10
Chris Mepham: Standing solidly at the back and being a formidable presence in the air, winning five aerial duels, his efforts were ultimately in vain as Iran finally broke through. 7/10
Joe Rodon: Incited great, prevented Azmoun with a perfectly timed duel on the edge of his own penalty area and just gave Bayer Leverkusen the lead after an inviting cross into the six-yard box. Earned the first yellow of the game with a wild lunge on Taremi when the Porto striker leaped past him. 7/10
Ben Davis: He’s used to playing as a centre-back on the left, having done so for his club last year, but he doesn’t have the same license to come forward for his country. Switched to left-back after a tactical change and got the closest of any Welshman to score with a 20 yard shot. 6/10
Connor Roberts: Transformed into Dani Alves for a moment as he lashed a superb cross into the box for Moore to attack in what should have resulted in the first goal. Made a heroic save at the other end as Ehsan Hajsafi’s fierce shot headed for goal. Taken off when Page shuffled his pack but played well. 6/10
Ethan Ampadu: Harassed and tormented by the Iranian press, who clearly identified Chelsea’s own Spezia loanee as the player who can make Wales tick. Carelessly lost the ball to initiate a counterattack but then recovered superbly to parry a shot wide after fracturing his stomach to atone for his mistake. 6/10
Harry Wilson: Caused Iran a problem or two with their forward runs from midfield in the first half and scored Wales’ first corner after a shot was deflected from an unchased shot into the box. Faded after the restart and replaced by Dan James as Page tweaked his tactics. 6/10
Aaron Ramsay: Worked in the Al Rayyan sun with a disappointingly ineffective performance. So often a difference maker for his country when it counts, but unlike Euro 2016, the decision to go beach blonde has not yet had the desired effect at this World Cup. 4/10
Neco Williams: He found himself on the receiving end of some enthusiastic tackles on the touchline but was able to move on after a fierce collision with Rezaeian. Switched to his more natural side on the right but couldn’t make much of an impact in the final third with Iran’s dominance so strong. 6/10
Gareth Bale: His 110th appearance saw him overtake team-mate Chris Gunter as the most capped Welsh player of all time but, as against the USA, struggled to really get involved. The penalty against States masked an otherwise average performance and, like Ramsey, age finally seems to be catching up with Wales’ greatest player of all time. 5/10
Kieffer Moore: Rewarded a crucial serve against USA with a starting shot and nearly crowned his call-up with a goal after 11 minutes when Hosseini parried his close-range volley down the stretch. Has worked hard and will always be a threat with his size and physicality but was completely starved beyond that early sifter. 7/10
Brennan Johnson: Brought on to add some speed to Wales’ attack and did just that as he sped to the touchline with his well-defended return on Bale. However, missed another promising opportunity. 6/10
Daniel Jacob: Received the same task as Johnson at the opposite end but was devastated after attempting to sprint to the left which surprisingly didn’t result in a free kick, much to the dismay of his teammates and coaches. 5/10