“We need three points – nothing less,” stressed Carlos Queiroz. IR Iran had just lost their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 curtain-raiser to England. Furthermore, a 6-2 defeat had severely dented their goal difference. Wales were standing at hurdle two, and Wales were the favourites to seize victory.
The story, however, didn’t subscribe to its script. Iran dominated from the offset, with Ali Gholizadeh having a goal disallowed and Wayne Hennessey producing a superb save to keep deadlock intact.
Team Melli then ramped up the pressure in the second half. They must have had it-is-not-going-to-be-our-day thoughts, though, when they hit the woodwork twice within seconds, and Hennessey made another fine save.
Queiroz sent on Rouzbeh Cheshmi in the 80th minute – a player who arrived in Doha with “unfinished business” in the World Cup. The defensive midfielder was excellent when Iran beat Morocco in their Russia 2018 debut, but a training-ground injury then ruled him out of the tournament and the Asians suffered group-stage elimination.
Hennessey was sent off after 86 minutes, but Wales looked like they had done enough for an undeserved point as the clock hit 98. Then Cheshmi arrowed a curler into the bottom corner from 25 yards – his first international goal in four-and-a-half years and the first scored from outside the box at Qatar 2022.
Ramin Rezaeian then sealed a 2-0 victory. Iran had won a World Cup game by more than one goal for the first time, and also claimed their maiden win against European opposition.
“Our pride was damaged in the first game,” said Queiroz. “The beauty of football is that there is always another game ahead. We had to forget how gutted we were. We forgot the England game and took the Wales game very seriously.
“Wales are very tough opponents. They played very fast football. But we put in a good performance, got a good result and we deserved it. We were better than Wales and could have scored more goals. The most important thing was to win though. “I really have to thank the Iranian fans. They helped us play 90 minutes of beautiful football. Now we have to concentrate on USA.
We haven’t finished yet.” Nor has Cheshmi. A goal – not even a brilliant one – will atone for his 2018 heartbreak. History, and history alone, will. Iran have never been past the first round of a World Cup, and that’s fact the 29-year-old is determined to rewrite in Qatar.