DOHA, Qatar --Iran kept their hopes of qualification for the World Cup round of 16 alive by scoring twice in the final 11 minutes of stoppage time to beat Wales 2-0 and throw Group B wide open.
After Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute for a foul on Mehdi Taremi outside the box, Rob Page's team were overrun by the Iranians, who scored through Rouzbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian. Iran had earlier hit the post twice in a dominant performance and thoroughly deserved their late win.
Iran's victory (3 points) means that they'll go into Tuesday's final group game against the United States (1) knowing that a win will take them into the knockout stages; Wales (1) now need to beat England (3) on Tuesday to have any hope of reaching the round of 16.
Meanwhile, the US will likely need to beat Iran in their final game on Thursday to remain in the tournament if they can't spring a shock against England first.
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1. Hennessey red costly as Iran strike late
Wales keeper Hennessey earned himself the dubious distinction of becoming the first player to be sent off at Qatar 2022 and did so with a foul that earned comparisons with one of the most infamous moments in World Cup history.
The 35-year-old was initially shown a yellow card by Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar after racing out of his penalty area before colliding with Iran forward Taremi, but it was the definition of a clear and obvious error by the official.
The VAR official, Canadian Drew Fischer, called a review, and Escobar rescinded the yellow card and issued a red instead.
It was an inexplicable decision by Hennessey to race out of his area and was a clear red card, so dangerous was his challenge, which was a high foot that caught Taremi in the chest.
The foul brought back images of West Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher's foul on France's Patrick Battiston during the 1982 World Cup semifinal. Battiston suffered damaged vertebrae in the incident, but Schumacher was not even booked.
Hennessey's red card proved hugely costly for Wales who, down to 10 men, conceded stoppage time goals to Cheshmi and Rezaeian. But Iran were much the better side throughout -- hitting the post twice inside a nine-second spell -- and deserved their victory, which keeps their hopes alive and leaves Wales needing to beat England to have any chance of reaching the second round.
2. Iran anthem protests send a message
The political situation in Iran and the ongoing protests against the ruling regime after the death of Mahsa Amini in September have accompanied the nation's football team every step of the way in Qatar, and it was the same against Wales.
With coach Carlos Queiroz's players all bravely refusing to sing the national anthem before the 6-2 defeat against England in the opening game, the squad were shown only mumbling the words ahead of the Wales clash in a half-hearted manner. Some of the players once again chose not to sing the anthem, less than 24 hours after former player Voria Ghafouri was arrested for "insulting the national football team and propagandising against the government."
Whether the Iran players had been placed under pressure to sing the anthem by the regime is not known, but the reaction of the Iranian fans inside the ground was another rebuke to the Tehran government.
While the Wales fans sang their own anthem loudly, many Iranians whistled and jeers theirs. One fan was shown crying on the big screens in the stadium, while supporters applauded when images of Iranian women were displayed at the end of the anthem.
Outside the stadium, pro-government supporters clashed with those against the regime, while inside, one female supporter was pictured having her Iran shirt bearing Amini's name confiscated by security.
Whatever happens to Iran on the pitch at this World Cup, their players and supporters have sent incredibly powerful images to the rest of the world to highlight the situation in their country.
And having claimed such a dramatic victory in this game, Iran's story could yet continue into the knockout stages. For that to happen, they must beat the US on Tuesday in what will be another highly charged game.
3. Bale putting it all the table for Wales
Gareth Bale has made it clear that playing for Wales in the World Cup is the pinnacle of his career, despite having won five Champions League medals with Real Madrid, and the 33-year-old is going above and beyond for his country in Qatar.
His appearance against Iran, which made him the most-capped male Welsh player of all time with 110, was his second 90 minutes in the space of four days, and, for Bale, that is a big deal.
He didn't manage even one 90-minute outing during his six-month stint at MLS side LAFC this season and hasn't had a full game at club level since playing for Tottenham against Wycombe in January 2021.
Bale has to manage his time on the pitch due to the fitness issues that have affected the later stages of his career, so playing three group games in nine days in Qatar was always going to be a challenge for a player who last played successive 90 minutes for Wales in World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and Estonia in September 2021.
He did little in the opening game against the US before scoring his crucial penalty equaliser, then did even less against Iran, touching the ball just 19 times in the opening hour of the game.
Bale has never denied that he might retire at the end of this World Cup, so Tuesday's game against England could be the end of the road for one of the biggest stars in the game.
But Bale does football fairy tales like few others -- remember his stoppage time winner for LAFC in the MLS Cup final -- so a third straight game against old rivals England might just be the perfect way, not to finish his career but to ensure it has at least one more game after that.
Wales: Hennessey 5; Mepham 6, Rodon 5, Davies 6; Roberts 6, Ramsey 5, Ampadu 6, Wilson 5, Williams 6; Moore 6, Bale 5.
Subs: Johnson 6, James 7, Allen 6, Ward 6.
Iran: H Hosseini 7; Rezaeian 6, Pouraliganji 7, M Hosseini 6, Mohammadi 6; Gholizadeh 7, Noorollahi 6, Ezatolahi 7, Hajsafi 6; Azmoun 8, Taremi 7.
Subs: Ansarifard 6, Torabi 6, Jahanbakhsh 6, Chesmi 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Sardar Azmoun
The Iran forward was a constant threat to Wales, and his pace and movement troubled the back three of Joe Rodon, Ben Davies and Chris Mepham throughout the game. So unlucky to see his second-half shot hit the post.
WORST: Aaron Ramsey
The Nice midfielder is only marginally behind Bale in terms of his legendary status with Wales, but while Bale always shows up, Ramsey can too often live off his reputation, and this was a game when he just didn't contribute as expected and required.
Highlights and notable moments
Wayne Hennessey was sent off after the referee headed to the video replay screen, having originally given him only a yellow card for this challenge.
A red card is given to Wayne Hennessey after this challenge 🟥 pic.twitter.com/frfbiOt0we— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
Iran then struck late to seal a famous win.
IRAN SCORES IN THE 98th MINUTE 😱🇮🇷 pic.twitter.com/5yPWevQ4YS— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
ALL THE EMOTIONS! THIS IS WHAT THE WORLD CUP IS ABOUT 😱 pic.twitter.com/HEmNFesYYi— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 25, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz: "Two points. We played today with amazing character, which is the profile of our team. We play with a sense of unity, cohesion. After the first game we need to get back on route. The second point was to get rid of this bad feeling of bleeding. Football is a game of different moments. It's not because you win or lose. Sometimes you lose your dignity, your honour, but of course in our first game we were bleeding in our pride. This was an opportunity to rebound. We put a good scarf [bandage] to stop the bleeding. We played brilliantly and deserved to win."
Iran midfielder Rouzbeh Cheshmi: "In the first game, there was great pressure on the group and team, which is why we couldn't get the result we needed against England. This time we were ready and able to win. This is because of the solidarity among the team members that we could achieve this result.
"I should say that if the pressures are football-related, it is acceptable, you have good and bad days, but if pressure is on us unfairly, that would not be right. Certain things happened that were not quite fair; we received non-football pressures, and the entire family of the team helped each other. I scored, but the team did the work."
Wales manager Rob Page: "Our performance before the red card was not acceptable. We hoped it would all come together today, but we were nowhere near the levels we've set and the standards we've set in recent games. One or two you can carry, but when there are so many off days, there is only one outcome.
"I always take responsibility, that's my team, the sending off didn't help of course, but at that point we had five forwards on the pitch so couldn't get a defensive shape. But yes, I'll always take responsibility for performances. It's a difficult changing room at the minute, but we will be ready [against England]; it's a local derby and a great game to finish on, and we'll be prepared to go."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- The past 5 World Cup games have been scoreless at half-time. The most recent first-half goal was by Michy Batshuayi for Belgium on Wednesday.
- Bale made just 19 touches in the first hour, the lowest tally for Wales.,
- Hennessey is the first goalkeeper to be sent off at the World Cup since South Africa's Itumeleng Khune in 2010 vs. Uruguay.
- Iran are the first team to win a World Cup match when tied at time of opponent's ejection since Japan defeated Colombia 2-1 after Carlos Sanchez's red card in 2018.
- At 90'+8, Cheshmi's goal is the latest regulation game winner in World Cup history.
Wales: A huge game against England on Tuesday at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, 10 p.m. local time and 2 p.m. ET. Anything less than a win for Wales and they're out.
Iran: An equally huge game, given the political situation between the two countries, as they face the United States on Tuesday at Al Thumama Stadium, 10 p.m. local time and 2 p.m. ET. It could be a straight knockout for who qualifies.