AL RAYYAN, Qatar – For 85 minutes on Friday, Iran completely outplayed Wales with absolutely nothing to show for it. They were sharper. They were more dangerous. They had four shots on goal—not including the two that hit the post in the second half—and 19 in total, but didn’t get the goal they so deserved.
Then a moment of madness from Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey changed everything:
Red card to Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey
Wales’ Wayne Hennessey is shown a red card after a nasty collision outside the box with Iran’s Mehdi Taremi in the 86th minute.
Iran were playing for pride as much as anything after their humiliating 6-2 defeat by Group B favorites England to open the tournament. For a country that has never reached the knockout stage in five previous World Cup appearances, Iran looked destined to return home early.
But in the 86th minute of a goalless game, Hennessey raced out of his area to try and thwart a counter-attack led by Melli’s Mehdi Taremi. Hennessey was late and crashed into Taremi. Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar showed a yellow card; with a Welsh defender running, in real time the professional foul seemed to deserve nothing more than a booking.
That’s where the video assistant referee came in.
Replays showed Hennessey’s flying leg had recklessly caught Taremi in the face. His knee hit the striker’s jaw. The VAR asked Escobar to take a second look; with the benefit of slow motion, there was no doubt that it was a reckless and violent move by the Nottingham Forest defence.
It was clear that Wales would be reduced to 10 men even before Escobar signaled the cancellation of the caution and brandished the red card.
[Late red card changes everything in Wales-Iran match]
With nine minutes of stoppage time granted in part due to the delay, Iran had time to seal the three points. Wave after wave of attacks came to naught, though Wales hung on for life. The Welsh even had a couple of half chances to win it themselves as Iran threw almost every player on the field in desperate search of a winner.
With the clock ticking steadily towards the 99th minute, it looked like it would end 0-0. But with about 90 seconds remaining, substitute Roozbeh Cheshmi curled a long-range shot from outside the area past the Wales support and nestled inside the far post.
It was nothing less than what Iran deserved.
Highlights from Wales v Iran
In the closing stages of the game, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was shown a red card after colliding with a player. Iran capitalized with stoppage time goals from Roozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian.
A second goal from right-back Ramin Rezaeian before the final whistle added the exclamation mark, giving Team Melli their third win in 16 World Cup games all-time.
The dramatic victory temporarily lifted Iran, whose players and coaches have understandably been distracted by anti-government protests and the autocratic regime’s violent crackdown on them that their country has unleashed at home.
But this was a victory for the players, some of whom have been openly critical of the country’s leadership at great personal risk to themselves as well as the Iranian diaspora around the world.
With three points, Iran are second only to England on goal difference at the top of the group, at least temporarily.
The Three Lions will face the United States later on Friday in one of the featured games of the first round. Iran, who beat the US in 1998 in the political rivals’ only previous meeting on the world stage, will face the Americans on Tuesday to close Group B play.
Breaking America’s Chances
The “FIFA World Cup Now” crew takes a look at the Group B standings following Iran’s win over Wales. The United States control their own destiny with a win or a tie against England.
Another win would be enough for Iran to go ahead and make history, regardless of the outcome of the England-Wales match which kicks off at the same time.
That’s a story for another day, though.
At least until tomorrow, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and his players will no doubt be focused on enjoying Friday’s triumph, one that might not have happened without Hennessey’s game-changing expulsion
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