Iran bounce back from humbling to show what they are really about by beating Wales to stay in the FIFA World Cup hunt

Iran bounced back from their opening defeat to England at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with an impressive 2-0 win over Wales at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Friday. Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- As much as their heavy opening loss to England was a humbling reminder as to the magnitude of the task at hand if they are to reach the FIFA World Cup knockout round for the first time, Friday's 2-0 win over Wales was a statement as to why Iran are capable of doing just that.

Just four days ago, Iran were already being written off after just 90 minutes at Qatar 2022 after conceding six goals to the English, in a match that also garnered worldwide headlines for non-footballing reasons -- with the Team Melli players opting against singing the national anthem just before kickoff as it was whistled by in disapproval by supporters gathered at Khalifa International Stadium.

On Friday, eyebrows were raised when the Iranian starting XI opted to sing the anthem on this occasion.

And once the action got started, even more looked on with surprise as Iran looked a completely different team to the one that receive a thrashing by England.

While still looking to be well-organised and risk-averse -- trademarks of his game plan -- Iran coach Carlos Queiroz showed more adventure by starting both star strikers Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun in a 4-4-2 formation, as opposed to the conservative 5-4-1 from Monday.

While Wales edged the possession battle early on and largely throughout the contest, it was Iran who constantly looked the danger of the two teams.

They found the back of the net as early as the 15th minute only for Ali Gholizadeh's effort to be flagged offside.

Six minutes after the break, the woodwork twice came to Wales' rescue as Azmoun and Gholizadeh were both unlucky to be denied, before a blistering low drive by Saeid Ezatolahi forced a superb fingertip save from Wayne Hennessey.

Hennessey then looked to have emerged as the self-sacrificial hero for the Welsh -- and the villain for Iran -- when he scythed down Taremi outside the area after the striker had poked the ball past him and looked certain to advance towards an unguarded net.

Incredibly, Hennessey was initially shown only a yellow but it did not take long for VAR to rectify the error and condemn the Wales goalkeeper to his marching order.

Still, it looked to be a decent trade-off given that time was running out for the Iranians and Wales had thus far been able to keep them at bay despite the situation becoming increasingly nervy.

But just when it looked like Iran would be denied the victory the desperately needed, the unlikeliest of heroes emerged as substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi -- a defender who had only scored once for Iran in his previous 21 caps - found possession on the edge of the box and produced to dispatch a clinical finish into the bottom corner in the 8th minute of injury-time.

And then, with Wales now pushing forward in search of the equaliser, Team Melli would go on to seal the victory in the 111th minute as they broke away on the counter an added a second through Ramin Rezaeian's delightful chipped finish.

Ultimately, the victory was no less than Iran deserved.

For some who think this a massive upset, Iran are actually just one place below Wales in the FIFA world rankings in 20th spot. If it needs repeating, this was a side that narrowly lost 1-0 to Spain and drew 1-1 with Portugal at the last World Cup, while also picking up a win against Morocco.

Rather than a sign of Iran's actual standard, the humbling at the hands of England was rather a one-off that came as a result of the opposition just performing really well on the day coupled with Team Melli's overly-defensive tactics backfiring on them.

Friday's dominant win over Wales was a sign of the real Iran.

The one that, should they turn up against United States on Tuesday, could just have it in them to reach the Round of 16 at a World Cup for the first time ever.