WORLD CUP: Persian Princes Sent Packing By Bitter Bosnia





Iran’s World Cup dream came to an end as they were comfortably beaten 3-1 by an already eliminated Bosnia and Herzegovina. Carlos Queiroz’s men did however secure the crumb of comfort of their first goal in the finals, scored by Charlton Athletic’s Reza Ghoochannejhad, while the three points gained here were Bosnia’s first ever in the World Cup.

Queiroz’s Team Melli came into this game knowing a win would secure an unlikely passage to the knockout stages if Nigeria lost to group leaders Argentina. Iran’s defensive rigidity in their opening two games had earned much praise, but their lack of attacking intent was evident: as Jonathan Wilson noted, against Argentina the Iranian team combined completed fewer passes than Albiceleste midfielder Javier Mascherano in a goalless first half. With Queiroz declaring his intention to step down from his post after the World Cup due to a lack of government support, this game offered one last chance for glory on the global stage.

Bosnia and Herzegovina were themselves out to prove a point after a controversial 1-0 defeat to Nigeria saw them eliminated after two games. Edin Dzeko had a goal wrongly disallowed in that game before Peter Odemwingie’s decisive penalty, and with pressure mounting on coach Safet Susic, there was still plenty to play for from the World Cup debutants’ perspective.

Despite pressure on Queiroz to partner lone striker Ghoochannejhad with another attacker from the start, Iran once again lined up with two banks behind the ball, seemingly aiming to frustrate Bosnia and Herzegovina before striking with a late sucker punch.

However, those plans were obliterated when Dzeko, having already threatened with a header saved by Alireza Haghighi, broke the deadlock on 23 minutes. One of the few genuine attacking talents on show, Dzeko fired home a precise finish from the edge of the box to leave Iran with it all to do.

Rather than baulk at the size of the challenge ahead of them, Iran responded impressively, with Masoud Shojaei inches away from an immediate equaliser just a minute later when his chip left Asmir Begovic stranded but bounced back agonizingly off the crossbar. His team had been forced out of their shell by going behind early and it wasn’t long before Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah was pushed up front with Ghoochannejhad to form an England-based strike partnership.

Iran’s main threat seemed to be high crosses into Begovic’s area, but the Stoke City goalkeeper and the defensive unit in front of him coped comfortably with everything thrown at them. Indeed, it was Bosnia who came closest to another goal as Dzeko played through Avdija Vrsajevic, but the marauding full-back produced a defender’s finish and shot wide from a promising position.

As first-half injury time slipped away, Iran were at least buoyed by news from elsewhere. Lionel Messi, having broken Iranian hearts four days ago with a late winner, now handed them a lifeline by restoring Argentina’s lead against a determined Nigeria. However, Team Melli now needed two goals in 45 minutes after drawing a blank in their previous 225 minutes in Brazil, and Queiroz needed to produce rabbits from hats if progression was to be salvaged.

That task became almost impossible when Miralem Pjanic doubled Bosnia’s lead on the hour with a neat finish from Tino-Sven Susic’s defence-splitting pass, Haghighi again left with little chance. It was a case of what could have been for Bosnia had they had more fortune and managed a draw against Nigeria and perhaps had Sasic not been so conservative in his tactics in the opening games.

In the opposition dugout, his opposite number made a final roll of the dice as Alireza Jahanbakhsh replaced the more conservative Ehsan Hajsafi and Dejagah made way for Karim Ansarifard. It looked a futile effort, though, as the pace of the game dropped with the players’ energy levels, and Iran’s target was soon downgraded to simply scoring a goal before leaving Brazil.

Just when it looked like even that would be too much to ask, Ghoochannejhad poked home from close range after excellent work from Javad Nekounam on the left. Their tails back up, Iran’s players readied themselves for another assault on Begovic’s goal, but before the replays of that goal had finished playing Bosnia had cruelly removed any lingering hope of an Iran comeback. Ursajevic made up for his earlier miss with a clinical finish from a tight angle within a minute of conceding at the other end.

That was how it finished, and though Quieroz and Iran will take home plaudits for their defensive displays, their toothlessness in attack predictably caught up with them. For Bosnia, tipped by some as dark horses, this tournament will be seen as a missed opportunity, though many players and fans feel hard done by and understandably so. Both will aim to be back in four years’ time and they should be richer for the harsh lessons learned in Brazil.


BOSNIA: Begovic, Vrsajevic, Spahic, Kolasinac, Besic, Pjanic, Ibiševic, Dzeko (Visca 84), Susic (Salihovic 79), Sunjic, Hadzic (Vranjes 61).

GOALS: Dzeko 23, Pjanic 59, Vrsajevic 83.

BOOKINGS: Besic 77.

IRAN: Haghighi, Haji Safi (Jahanbakhsh 63), Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Shojaei (Heydari 46), Timotian, Montarezi, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah (Ansarifard 68), Poolad.

GOALS: Ghoochannjad 82.

BOOKINGS: Ansarifard 88.

Dan Rawley

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