Analysis: Disciplined IR Iran downed by lucky Costa strike
Kazan: Islamic Republic of Iran remain in contention for a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 ticket after they put in a spirited display but succumbed to a Diego Costa goal against Spain on Wednesday.
After a late own goal earned them the three points against Morocco, Lady Luck deserted Team Melli on Wednesday as Ramin Rezaeian's clearance struck Costa's leg and ended at the back of the Iranian net to consign them to their first defeat in official matches since 2014.
IR Iran threatened on the counter and from set-pieces, but having watched Saeid Ezatolahi's equaliser ruled out for offside, they failed to create more opportunities or take the few they created.
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Defensive organisation was the name of the game as Carlos Queiroz's men took on the challenge of stifling a technically gifted and tactically fluid Spain side. Indeed, the Iranians were able to make life difficult for Andres Iniesta ad co who were restricted to one shot on target for the opening 45 minutes.
A low defensive block and a clear height advantage for IR Iran meant that only three of Spain's 22 attempted crosses on the night found their man. Even the combative Costa only mustered one shot beside his 54th minute winner.
Happy to sit back and concede possession while hoping to hit Spain on the counter, Team Melli had less than 20 percent of the ball come the final whistle and saw their opponents complete 696 passes, five times as many as Queiroz's men did.
Having featured in a deeper midfield role against Morocco, Vahid Amiri was employed in his more natural left-wing role and looked to run into the space behind right-back Dani Carvajal, who was playing his first game since his injury in the UEFA Champions League final.
The Persepolis wideman was a constant menace for the Spanish defence and won four fouls on the left flank. The introduction of Alireza Jahanbakhsh after going behind might have helped Amiri do more damage, but the forward was withdrawn 12 minutes later to be replaced by Saman Ghoddos.
Team Melli's most dangerous chance, bar their ruled out goal, came from a pinpoint Amiri cross after he skilfully beat Gerard Pique on the wing, but Mehdi Taremi failed to direct his header at the far post.
Ezatolahi effective at both ends
He was arguably the top performer for IR Iran on the pitch, marrying strength and aggression with grace and elegance. Saeid Ezatolahi was central in the buildup of every attack and was calling the shots for his side in defence.
No player made more clearances than the 21-year-old (5), including one ball off the goal line, and he intercepted the ball three times more than any of his teammates.
Ezatolahi was the starting point for Team Meli's chances, as he completed the most passes for IR Iran (23), and Spain were alive to his threat, as he was repeatedly fouled in the middle of the pitch.
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