Al RAYYAN, Qatar (Dispatches) — Rouzbeh Cheshmi scored in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time to break a scoreless stalemate and Iran went on to defeat Wales 2-0 at the World Cup on Friday.
Cheshmi’s strike from outside the box was just beyond the diving reach of Wales backup goalkeeper Danny Ward, who was pressed into duty when starter Wayne Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute.
Ramin Rezaeian added a second goal moments later and Iran celebrated while some of the Welsh players dropped in disbelief to the field.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said his players were “back to football”.
“I think it was a wonderful day for us, we’re back to football and I don’t have the words to say thank you to our players,” said Queiroz, leading Iran at a third straight World Cup.
“They deserve all attention and respect. I think today people understand these boys love to play football.
“Again the players deserve to be supported and we did it for them. That’s the only reason we are here, to play for the fans.”
Iran bounced back in style from a 6-2 hammering at the hands of England with an energetic display against Wales.
Some Iranian fans were in tears during the singing of the anthem.
Iran forward Mehdi Taremi denied on Thursday that his team had come “under pressure” from their government to sing the anthem at the World Cup.
“I don’t like to talk about political issues, but we are not under any pressure,” Taremi said.
‘Team Melli’ will head into their last Group B match against the United States on Tuesday knowing that another win would send them into the knockout phase for the first time.
“It’s just the beginning, now we need to finish the job,” added Queiroz.
Hennessy was ejected in the 86th minute for a high challenge on Taremi.
Gareth Bale made his 110th appearance for Wales, the most all-time for the national team, but the Welsh appeared sluggish early after a 1-1 draw with the United States in their Group B opener.
Iran, which fell 6-2 to England in its opener to fall to last place in the group, fared better against Wales.
Wales was making just its second overall appearance at the World Cup and first since 1958.
Bale, who played for Major League Soccer’s LAFC this past season, remained stuck on 41 goals for the national team, despite surpassing teammate Chris Gunter (109) for most all-time appearances.
Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand was ruled out of the game after he sustained a concussion in the opener. Hussein Husseini started in his place.
Iran, which qualified for the last two World Cups, has never advanced to the knockout round.
The two teams had never played each other at a World Cup. Wales won their only friendly match 1-0 in 1978.