Iran stun Wales at World Cup as England target last 16
DOHA – Iran scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales 2-0 on Friday (25) and breathe new life into a World Cup campaign overshadowed by mass anti-government protests at home.
The Iranian players sang the national anthem before the Group B clash, having opted to stay silent in their opener in Qatar, and were worthy winners against a Welsh side reduced to 10 men late in the match.
Hosts Qatar later crashed 3-1 against African champions Senegal to move to the brink of an embarrassing early exit from their own tournament.
Iran, who would have been eliminated with if they had lost, punished Gareth Bale’s Wales in the eighth minute of injury time when substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi smashed home.
The Iranians sent their thousands of fans at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha wild when Ramin Rezaeian clipped in a second goal on the counter-attack.
There were emotional scenes as Iran’s players and staff, including their Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, embraced on the pitch and took in the acclaim of their supporters.
Mehdi Taremi, the team’s star striker, paid tribute to Iran’s fans.
“Thank you to our supporters, they helped us all the time,” said Taremi, who was cut down by Wayne Hennessey when the goalkeeper came haring out of his goal.
Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute, earning the first red card of the World Cup following a VAR review.
“We need those supporters to support us like always,” added Taremi, whose side will reach the last 16 if they win a politically charged clash with the United States on Tuesday (29).
“Even those who are in Iran behind their TV, we need their positive energy.
“We have a dream and we want to give that dream a chance.”
Iran were thumped 6-2 by England in their opening match and beforehand had stood impassively during their national anthem in an apparent gesture of solidarity with anti-government protesters in the Islamic republic.
Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.
An AFP photographer at the stadium on Friday witnessed security staff confiscating a flag from a fan with the protest slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’.
Some Iranian fans were in tears during the singing of the anthem.
Asian Cup holders Qatar became only the second home team to crash out in the group stage, after South Africa in 2010, as Netherlands were held to a 1-1 draw by a battling Ecuador.
Cody Gakpo, the gangly PSV Eindhoven forward who has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester United, put the Netherlands in front with a superb strike in the sixth minute at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Yet, with a large and vociferous support behind them, Ecuador fought back with such ferocity that the Dutch were rattled, and they deserved the equalizer when it came through Enner Valencia four minutes after half-time.
It was Ecuador captain Valencia’s third goal of the World Cup already after his brace in his country’s opening win over Qatar.
And one consequence of this result is that the host nation, already beaten twice, are the first team to be eliminated from their own World Cup.
In contrast three-time beaten finalists the Netherlands are not quite through to the next round, with one point separating them, Ecuador and Senegal, who defeated Qatar 3-1 earlier.
Ecuador and Senegal meet in the last round of Group A matches next Tuesday (29), while Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side meet the hosts knowing a draw will make certain their place in the knockout phase.
Brazil’s team camp announced that superstar forward Neymar would miss the side’s next game against Switzerland after he suffered ankle ligament damage in their opening 2-0 win against Serbia.
England head into their second match of the tournament against the United States later Friday knowing victory in the Group B clash would secure a place in the last 16.
But Gareth Southgate’s men will have to overcome a talented young side and the weight of history.
The USA beat England at the 1950 tournament in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history and in 2010 held a star-studded team to a 1-1 draw.
England are still bidding for a first major tournament title in 56 years after losing last year’s European Championship final to Italy on penalties.
They were given a boost ahead of the USA game, with captain Harry Kane passed fit despite taking a knock to his ankle against Iran.
– Agence France-Presse