Iran punish Hennessey’s blunder with crushing win over 10-man Wales
Just as the clocks on the big screens at either end of this stadium ticked into the eighth minute of stoppage time, Wales cracked. For so long it seemed they would somehow avoid losing a match that had become the epitome of living dangerously well before Wayne Hennessey was sent off for inadvertently poleaxing Mehdi Taremi on 86 minutes. But then the substitute Roozbeh Cheshmi curled home from the edge of the box and Ramin Rezaeian put the gloss on a victory in the 11th minute of stoppage time, denting Wales’s now slim hopes of progressing to the last 16 in the process.
The Iran striker Sardar Azmoun grabbed Carlos Queiroz’s cheeks with joy at the final whistle, before attempting to piggyback his manager moments later, and Iran soon set off on a victory lap as some of Wales’s players lay floored. When Cheshmi struck, Wales could not exactly say it had not been coming. They had been clinging on – Iran rattled the woodwork twice inside 20 seconds in the second half – and Gareth Bale’s hands were clasped behind his back in the box, frantically trying to prevent the possibility of giving away a penalty as Iran peppered the Wales goal.
The emotions of a game that was always going to be a fraught occasion given the delicate complexion of Group B, and the reality that England await on Tuesday, were only enhanced before kick-off when Iran’s players broke their silence by singing their national anthem. Taremi had said none of the squad were under pressure to sing despite the threat of reprisals at home. The anguish as some players mumbled half-heartedly through the chorus spoke volumes. In the stands, Iran’s thumping support made clear their disdain for their government, jeering their own players. Tears streamed down the cheeks of a woman and a man carrying an Iran flag appeared inconsolable.
Wales avoided going a goal down when Ali Gholizadeh’s first-half goal was correctly ruled offside but Rob Page’s side wilted in the heat of the battle. They were overrun in midfield and failed to stop the bleeding. Hennessey rushed out of goal to confront Taremi as he latched on to a long ball upfield and the Wales goalkeeper inadvertently left the Iran striker in a heap. Mario Escobar initially showed Hennessey a yellow card but after a VAR review the Guatemalan referee upgraded the punishment to a red.
Joe Allen entered as a substitute late on for a first World Cup appearance but his despairing attempt to block Cheshmi’s shot was in vain as his right-foot shot, via the substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward’s fingertips, nestled in the bottom corner. Delirium followed as Iran’s bench emptied on to the pitch and they followed suit when Rezaeian dinked the ball over Ward. Wales will take some lifting.