Spain coach Fernando Hierro has warned his players to take nothing for granted despite a 1-0 win over Iran which puts them on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup knockout stages.
Diego Costa’s fortuitous 54th-minute strike proved enough to see off the Iranians and means Spain will guarantee a top-two finish in Group B if they take a point off already-eliminated Morocco.
But Hierro insists the problems posed by Iran – who thought they had equalised only for Saeid Ezatolahi’s effort to be ruled out by the video assistant referee – indicate there can be no guarantees in Russia.
Hierro said in the post-match press conference: “I think there are 32 great teams here at this World Cup and no-one is giving anything away, so anyone who thinks it is going to be very easy to score and win by a landslide is wrong.
“In some groups two teams have already qualified, but our group is very tough. Morocco lost 1-0 to Portugal but they were fighting to the end.”
Hierro acknowledged his own team will need to improve after they allowed themselves to grow frustrated with Iran’s dogged defensive performance until Costa’s timely breakthrough.
“As a 23-man group we are very committed – we are one team and that is how we will play until the end,” added Costa. “We know we still need to improve but hopefully as we do that we will keep winning.”
Jorge Sampaoli admits he has yet to establish a clear footballing identity with Argentina as he prepares to make tactical changes for the clash with Croatia.
The two-time world champions were held to a surprise 1-1 draw by Iceland in their Group D opener after Lionel Messi had a second-half penalty saved.
Coach Sampaoli, who took the job little over a year ago, wants to avoid going into the final group game in desperate need of points and hopes tinkering with his tactics can find a solution.
“We need to move on to the next phase, that’s what we came here for,” he said at his pre-match press conference.
“We don’t want to come to the last match without having resolved the matter, we want to resolve it tomorrow which is why we are going to play with a far more flexible squad and setup than we had in the first match.
“I haven’t been at the helm very long and these players all play in different clubs so it’s hard to establish a clear footballing identity so to speak.
“We haven’t had that much time to develop specific characteristics in our organisation.
“What we try to do is adapt to the situation and slowly but surely we try to develop approaches that generate a style of play.
“We don’t want the structure of the team to hamper individual talent because matches are going to be won by the players.”
Argentina sit two points behind their opponents in Group D following the opening round of matches.
In spite of Iran’s disciplined defending for most of the game, Spain managed to grab three points and win 1-0, thanks to Diego Costa‘s goal on Wednesday.
Carlos Queiroz’s men battled hard against World Cup favourites Spain in their second game of the tournament, but were perhaps unlucky not to have salvaged at least a draw.
Here, we take a look at player ratings for Iran, who gave a tough fight to the 2010 winners but still ended up on the losing side.
Alireza Beiranvand – 6: Safe handling except for a patchy stop from Busquets, and had no chance with the lucky only goal.
Ramin Rezaeian – 7: Showed plenty of energy up and down the right flank and made a remarkable goalmouth block to deny Ramos.
Morteza Pouraliganji – 7: Strong in the air and made an outstanding block from Silva’s shot. Excellent rearguard effort under constant pressure.
Jalal Hosseini – 7: Stood up manfully to the physical challenge provided by Costa and made several timely clearances inside the box.
Ehsan Hajsafi – 6: Made a couple of good runs down the left and competed with determination before being forced off with injury.
Mehdi Taremi – 5: Sent a header narrowly wide after an hour and wasted his team’s best chance with another header over the top ten minutes from time.
Omid Ebrahimi – 6: A workhorse in midfield, covering lots of ground and playing with discipline to close down Spain’s creators.
Saeid Ezatolahi – 8: Did a fabulous job blocking passing lanes on the edge of the box. Nearly a hero but his goal was rightly disallowed for offside.
Vahid Amiri – 6: The most attacking presence in Iran’s midfield, showing plenty of attacking intent with well-timed runs to support Azmoun.
Karim Ansarifard – 6: Dragged a hopeful long-range shot wide and blasted a decent chance into the side-netting early in the second half.
Sardar Azmoun – 6: Battled on his own up front, showing willingness to chase lost causes and causing problems for Pique with his aerial strength.
Milad Mohammadi – 6: Worked hard after coming on and produced a bizarre moment with an aborted somersault throw-in.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh – 5: Replaced Ansarifard on the left flank as Iran chased an equaliser, but couldn’t get involved.
Saman Ghoddos – 6: Barely had a touch as a late sub.