Spain holds off a surprisingly stiff challenge from Iran

The New York Times– Spain, one of the tournament favorites, drew even with Portugal atop of Group B with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Iran Wednesday night. Spain’s only goal came after an Iranian defender kicked the ball off of Diego Costa and it ricocheted into his own net.

For large swaths of the match Spain failed to break down the stout Iranian defense, and Iran’s equalizer was waived off for being offside. Spain can advance with a win or draw against Morocco next week, while Iran will likely need a win against Portugal.

Here’s how Spain beat Iran:

• Spain took a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute on an awkward deflection off Diego Costa’s leg.

• Iran had good scoring opportunities in the second half, but failed to pull even.

• Earlier, Ronaldo scored his fourth goal of the tournament to lead Portugal to victory over Morocco.

94’: Spain Wins!

It’s all over in Kazan! Iran fought valiantly, but couldn’t score the equalizer. Their players are down on the field, distraught. But their World Cup is far from over thanks to their win against Morocco.

92’: Yellow Card for Iran

An ugly tackle by Omid Ebrahimi gets him in the referee’s book, and earns Spain a free kick from a good position. It fails to beat the first man.

88’: Late Heroics?

With added time, we have about five minutes for Iran to find an equalizer.

82’: Inches From Equalizing!

Iran nearly scores one of the goals of the tournament. Vahid Amiri nutmegged Pique and teed up a header for Mehdi Taremi at the edge of the six-yard-box, but it goes just over.

Christopher Clarey


Pique nutmegged. Iran will always have that

79’: We Have a Booking

Vahid Amiri with the first yellow card of the match, for a late challenge on Dani Carvajal.

75’: Far From Over

Iran is looking lively here! Maybe they will manage an equalizer.

71’: Change for Spain

Andres Iniesta, who is still almost as good as he’s always been but rarely has the stamina for a full game anymore, goes off for Koke.

70’: Chaos at the Iranian Goal

A scrum at the Iran goal. Credit John Sibley/Reuters

Spain gets about six kicks at a ball on the Iranian goal line, but two Iranian defenders go down in the scrum (and on top of the ball), and the Iranian ‘keeper is able to corral it. The opportunity came off a neat little corner kick move.

68’: The Fans Are Ready

Christopher Clarey


Even though Iran has not yet scored on Spain, I know what it will sound like if they do after that false alarm: deafening

63’: Iran Goal Called Back!

Iran puts a free kick into the box, and after a scramble Saeid Ezatolahi scores. But he is ruled offside, and the video assistant referee concurs with the assistant referee’s call. Ezatolahi wasn’t offside on the initial free kick, but when a teammate met the ball in the air and headed it off of Ezatolahi, he had strayed a yard offside.

FootyMatrix ⚽ @Footy_Matrix

goal is disallowed after VAR judges offside!

60’: Not Going Away Completely

Vahid Amiri gets a good head on a cross, but his shot goes wide. Iran still hasn’t had a shot on goal.

56’: Momentum Swing? Doubtful

After a team that is parking the bus gets scored on, they usually open up in the hunt for an equalizer. But it seems unlikely that Iran is really going to chase this game, and will instead hope they can convert the one or two chances they’ll get instead.


Majid Hosseini kicks the ball off Diego Costa and into his own goal. Though he didn’t know about it, Fox is calling the goal for Costa.

Andrew Das: As soccer super-villain feats go, Diego Costa scoring on a deflection off his knee to break Iran’s hearts is right up there near the top.

49’: Close!

Spain with three great chances to score but are denied! A corner kick dribbles by the goal line but isn’t put it, a Busquets shot from outside the box is blocked, and Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand parries the rebound away just before Lucas Vázquez gets there.

46’: Coming Up: Goals or Cards?

The second half is underway. With 16 fouls in the first half, right now a yellow card looks more likely than a goal.

Halftime: Iran’s Strategy Is Working

Iran’s defense did a lot of this in the first half. Credit Robert Ghement/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock

The teams go into the break tied, 0-0. Spain has had 82 percent of possession and has taken 10 shots, but, crucially, only one was on target. The Iranian defense has been doing a really good job, though they don’t look likely at all to score on the counter attack.

47’: Silva Again, Blocked Again

David Silva gets another half-step free and unleashes a shot from the top of the box, but it is blocked out.

Andrew Das: Almost halftime. I hope Iran brought a second trainer to rub all the feet and ankles that got stepped on in the first half.

42’: The Bunker Holds

David Silva gets a half second free in the six-yard box, but his shot is blocked by an Iranian defender.

39’: Some Testiness!

Diego Costa and Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand get into it. Uruguayan referee Cunha Andres is very emphatic, as he is about everything, in telling them to cut it out.

Iran’s Sardar Azmoun (20) battles for control with Spain’s Sergio Busquets in the first half. Credit Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

36’: A Chance, Technically

Iran’s best chance of the match is a corner, but they can’t convert.

35’: Statistical Analysis: Kinda One-Sided

According to ESPN, Spain has had 82 percent of possession so far. That’s incredible!

Matthew Doyle


32’: If It Works, It Works

The Iranian defenders spent a lot of time in their own penalty area in the first half. Credit Francois Nel/Getty Images

I’ve been dismissive of Iran, but they are defending extremely well. They’re not hanging on by the skin of their teeth, but credibly shutting down every Spanish attack.

28’: Well There’s This…

Iran controlled the ball for about two minutes, which seems like a big accomplishment.

Andrew Das: You have to wonder if Iran can keep this up for 90 minutes. Possession is three to one for Spain, and it’s one acrobatic or frantic clearance after another in front of the Iran goal. It’s exciting — Iranians might call it heroic defending — but it’s hard to sustain over 90 minutes. And we’re only at the half hour now.

25’: Free Kick Is No Trouble for Beiranvand

After another Iranian foul in their own half, David Silva lined up for a 30 yard free kick. His deflected shot was on target, but right into the arms of Alireza Beiranvand, the Iranian ‘keeper.

18’: It’s Spain 2.0

Spain obviously has a number of incredible passers and dribblers, but this isn’t the tiki-taka team of 2010. They have big Diego Costa up front to put passes into, and are looking more for one killer ball than a serious of intricate passes.

Christopher Clarey


Iran defending deep in its own half with all 10 field players. Extreme attempt to defuse Spain’s short passing genius. So far so good. 20 minutes in, no goals

13’: An Early Theme

Spain couldn’t connect successfully on an early cross. Credit Sergey Dolzhenko/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock

More of the same, as Spain looks to unlock the compact Iranian defense. We might be repeating this one a fair bit tonight …

Spain has managed two free kicks near the Iranian goal, but weren’t able to connect with the subsequent cross either time.

6’: Iran Breaks Out

Iran with a good break forward and they eventually earn a free kick near the corner flag, but Spain heads away out of danger.

3’: Bus Parked? Bus Parked.

We’re just a few minutes in, and Iran already has 10 men behind the ball as Spain passes it around among themselves. It might be a long night for the Iranian defense.

01’: We Are Underway!

Spain is in white, Iran is in red.

Sergio Ramos Credit Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Spain’s Been Here Before

Spain didn’t lose a match in qualifying, scoring 36 goals and giving up just 3, only a 1-1 draw at Italy preventing them from winning all 10 games. Then again, La Furia Roja also didn’t lose in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, yet were handily bounced in the group stage.

Spain’s Starting Lineup

Two changes for Spain from the team that drew Portugal. Dani Carvajal replaces Nacho in defense, and Lucas Vazquez replaces Koke in the attack.

1. David De Gea

15. Sergio Ramos

3. Gerard Pique

18. Jordi Alba

2. Dani Carvajal

22. Isco

6. Andres Iniesta

5. Sergio Busquets

19. Diego Costa

21. David Silva

11. Lucas Vazquez

Iran’s Starting Lineup

1. Alireza Beiranvand

8. Morteza Pouraliganji

19. Majid Hosseini

9. Omid Ebrahimi

3. Ehsan Hajsafi

23. Ramin Rezaeian

11. Vahid Amiri

6. Saeid Ezatolahi

10. Karim Ansarifard

17. Mehdi Taremi

20. Sardar Azmoun