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World Cup Group B: Iran hope to pour further misery on Spain

Wednesday 20th June 2018

If you were forecasting every match in this World Cup before the tournament started last Thursday, Iran v Spain at the 45,000-seat Kazan Arena would be straightforward. Spain would be looking to all but lock down progression to the knockout stage after proving too much for Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo again failing to make an impact on the world’s biggest stage. Iran would be desperate for a result to keep their faint hopes alive, following a draw or defeat to Morocco. Yeah, about that.

Cristiano made a huge impact on the World Cup, denting David de Gea and La Roja’s confidence and registering a hattrick with a penalty, lucky strike, and a perfect free kick. The last, in the game’s final minutes, rescued a draw for the Selecao. Spain, with a woefully underqualified last-minute stand-in as manager, are the ones feeling the pressure now.

Iran don’t have a roster filled with world-class talent. They don’t even have an equipment sponsor following Nike’s withdrawal due to internationally-imposed economic sanctions against its fundamentalist theocracy. What they do have, what underrated Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz has instilled in them, is an iron will, steely determination and unwavering dedication to a single cause.

That may not be enough against the talent and skill Spain will bring to bear. Nevertheless, Team Melli will fight, hoping to find a way through, to do something that will widen the crack in their opponent’s belief. Fernando Hierro’s squad will try to fill that crack by scoring early and often to put the match to bed as quickly as possible. If La Furia cannot, disaster may strike.

Iran

Good fortune has struck for Team Melli. The Iranians conducted a holding action for 90+ minutes then were gifted an own goal against Morocco. The Atlas Lions almost certainly will not roar in this tournament, now. Iran might.

Carlos Queiroz’s tactics won’t change. If you park the bus against Morocco, you don’t step on the gas when you get to Spain.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the 24-year-old AZ Alkmaar winger, came off following the goal, limping noticeably. However, his post-match enthusiasm regarding hooking up with the Spaniards and the lack of any alarming news from the Iranian camp combine to suggest he is fine. Iran should be at full strength. The problem is the same can be said for their opponents.

Spain

Fernando Herrio’s team [still can’t believe it] will be in moods that reflect both nicknames attached to the national team.

La Roja will be red-faced at how they let a clear three points slip away because they could not contain one player. Okay, that player is the de facto best in the world--sorry, Messi acolytes, but until your guy learns to handle pressure like his rival, take penalties, and win back the Ballon d’Or, he’s second fiddle--but almost every player on the pitch for Spain knows Ronaldo well, and he is one 33-year-old man. They should have stopped him. David de Gea should have stopped his second goal.

On the other hand, La Furia will be furious paragraphs like that are [rightfully] being written about them. They know they are better. They have their pride. They’re Spaniards, #ffs. Iran will have not a storm but a tempest to weather. Umbrellas won’t be sufficient.

Prediction

Let’s put it this way, I’ll be surprised but not shocked if Iran somehow conjure a result out of any Spanish hesitancy, doubt, or foolishness. This team has no reason to expect interim boss Fernando Herrio to inspire them. They barely know him. But they are all top professionals, most world-class talents, who only need look in the mirror.

Depending on how the first quarter-hour transpires, this one will end up either 5-0 Spain or 1-1.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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