Spain sneaked past Iran to gain their first win of the World Cup, but they rode their luck as the only goal came from a deflected clearance off Diego Costa which the fiery frontman knew nothing about.
Iran put up a magnificent defensive effort and also gave Spain a few scary moments at the back – especially shortly after falling behind when the game’s biggest talking point arose…
Iran so near yet so VAR
Just after the hour mark Iran thought they had grabbed an historic equaliser, when an angled free-kick dropped at the feet of Saeid Ezatolahi and he promptly controlled to fire home. But as Carlos Queiroz’s team celebrated with unrestrained glee they failed to spot the linesman’s flag raised for offside, while referee Andres Cunha called for the use of video evidence to verify the decision.
After a few seconds – all that was necessary to show that Ezatolahi was indeed offside – Cunha was able to confirm the initial decision and move the game along, having ensured that justice had been served.
This was a textbook use of VAR. It was a huge moment in the game and there was considerable doubt over the original offside flag. If it had been raised wrongly and Iran had been denied a legitimate goal, it would have been a major moment not just in the game but also in the wider context of the group. Getting big decisions like this right simply makes the game better.
Spain make their own luck
It’s true that Spain’s goal was an enormous fluke, with Iranian right-back Ramin Rezaeian nipping in front of Diego Costa to make a well-timed clearance on the edge of the box, but then seeing his good work turn into a disaster as the ball took a ricochet off Costa’s shin and flew into the bottom corner of the net.
That was no way for a game of football to be decided, but in truth Spain more than deserved their moment of fortune after totally dominating the game. They were the only side even attempting to play progressive football, and considering the amount of time the ball spent in and around Iran’s penalty area it was only a matter of time until a piece of fortune went in Spain’s favour.
As the old saying goes: if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the lottery. Or if you don’t get the ball inside the opposition’s penalty area, you won’t benefit from a fortunate goal every now and then. Iran’s defensive discipline was commendable, but Spain spent most of the game attempting to score whereas their opponents were only attempting not to concede.
Isco and Silva lead Spain
This was by no means a classic performance from Spain, but two games into the World Cup it is becoming more than apparent that Isco and David Silva are the leaders of La Roja.
Although Andres Iniesta produced some excellent skill in the build-up to the goal, he is clearly a fading force and is unlikely to complete a game in the tournament, having been replaced midway through the second half in both contests so far.
Isco and Silva, meanwhile, were at the heart of everything and always looked the most likely sources of a breakthrough, mustering a combined total of nine shots on goal. And that is essential in the lone frontman formation being employed by interim boss Fernando Hierro, because Costa can’t be the sole source of goals and he needs support from midfielders breaking into the box.
During the glory years at the turn of the decade, the Spanish side was run by Xavi, with support from Iniesta and Xabi Alonso. Now two of them have gone and the third is on his way out, but there are new conductors of the orchestra and the role of Isco and Silva will perhaps be more important than anyone else in Spain’s quest for glory.
The Danes could put themselves on the verge of qualification for the knockout stage with a second Group C victory in Samara on Thursday after a 1-0 win over Peru.
The Socceroos, meanwhile, went down 2-1 against France in Kazan, so are fighting to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
With so much on the line, much has been made of just how Australia will look to shackle the creativity of Eriksen, who netted a hat-trick as Denmark beat the Republic of Ireland 5-1 in their qualifying play-off second leg in Dublin.
Hareide, though, has no doubts the Spurs man will be ready for the challenge.
“Christian is a player who can change matches, and we try to get him involved as much as we can,” the Norwegian head coach told a press conference, broadcast on the official FIFA tournament website.
“The opponents, they are going to be very cautious and careful about him, but he is used to that isn’t he from the Premier League?
“We have seen in the Premier League that he can succeed nevertheless.
“We hope that we will get him up to a good level and that he will be able to show good things at this World Cup.”
Australia coach Bert van Marwijk will not need to do any extra homework on Denmark’s star man, Eriksen having worked his way up through the Ajax youth system.
“I know Eriksen, because I already saw him in Holland and also a lot of time in Tottenham,” said the Dutchman, who guided his nation to the 2010 World Cup final where they lost to Spain.
Norway will be without midfielder William Kvist, who broke two ribs against Peru.
Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is expecting another stern test against the Australians.
“When you reach this level, all teams are well prepared, so mentally you have to be ready to fight for it, because small margins will make a difference at this level,” he said.
Van Marwijk also knows the size of the challenge awaiting his side at the Samara Arena.
“The Danes are a strong team, they are number 12 in the world rankings, that says enough,” van Marwijk said.
“We played against France, they have more quality in the players and more creativity, but I think the Danish are more of a team.
“We have to give the same performance against France, with a lot of discipline, but improve in the things which can make a difference.
“We just need to look at the details. We have to play and get more chances. Everything we did, we have to do it better.”
La Roja were given a tough fight by Carlos Queiroz’s men, and things remained goalless at half-time.
Costa’s goal came in the 54th minute, and while Iran did manage to get one back, it was disallowed by the referee due to Saeid Ezatolahi being offside.
Here we take a look at player ratings for Fernando Hierro’s Spanish side.
David de Gea – 5: Had little to do but still managed to look shaky. A real worry for Spain heading into the latter stages.
Dani Carvajal – 7: Returned to action following injury and always looking to advance down the right wing. Looks fully fit which is great news for Spain.
Gerard Pique – 6: Little defending required but was occasionally troubled by the physicality of opposing striker Azmoun. Below his best.
Sergio Ramos – 7: Defended with stern determination and sent an ambitious long-range free-kick into the wall as his team pushed for the opener.
Jordi Alba – 6: Struggled to make an attacking impact in the tight spaces of Iran’s penalty box but defended with diligence.
David Silva – 8: Always probing from the centre of the pitch and a regular goal threat, hooking one shot over the bar and having another blocked.
Sergi Busquets – 7: More advanced than usual as Iran sat back and had a rare long-range strike saved. Took control after the opener.
Isco – 8: Took the lead role in Spain’s attempts to break down Iran and produced some spectacular touches, always looking his team’s most creative force.
Lucas Vazquez – 5: Selected to give penetration down the right wing but failed to do so. Replaced by Asensio after a disappointing display.
Diego Costa – 6: Desperately struggled to get involved in the first half but was in the right place to break the deadlock with a flukey deflection.
Andres Iniesta – 6: Very quiet until he sparked the opening goal with a classy dribble. Replaced shortly after having done his job.
Koke – 6: The first introduction, replacing Iniesta in midfield, and shored things up in the middle.
Marco Asensio – 5: Played down the right wing in the latter stages but failed to make much impact.
Rodrigo – 6: Introduced for the final few minutes, with little chance to impress.