Diego Costa’s goal helps Spain overcome Iran’s stubborn resistance

Spain edged out a gallant Iran in an absorbing contest to ensure they will reach the World Cup knockout stage with a draw in their final group game. It is the moment everyone is talking about in Spain’s 1-0 World Cup win over Iran. No, not Diego Costa’s winning goal, deflecting into the net after a defender tried clearing the ball, or Saeid Ezatolahi’s goal being ruled out for offside. Instead, it is Iran defender Milad Mohammadi’s bizarre throw-in attempt, which caused hysterics in the commentary box and on social media. Deep into stoppage time and with his side needing a goal to claim a famous draw against 2010 world champions Spain, Mohammadi picked up the ball after it had gone out of play.

Iran were simply magnificent in their collective obduracy. Rarely can the old coaching maxim of don’t leave anything on the pitch have been so played out as it was by this Iran team. Against their elevated opponents, the players of Iran gave their all, several of them collapsing to the turf on the final whistle, exhausted by their heroic effort.  “We have three more points,” said the Spain coach, Fernando Hierro, sounding the most relieved man west of Vladivostock. “But it was a very tough game, they are very strong physically.”

He stepped back with intent, kissed the ball and launched into a forward roll but did not release the ball. He then took a few steps back and settled for a more conventional throw-in. The 2010 champions needed a fortuitous Diego Costa goal after half-time, having been frustrated in an opening period in which they had 81% of possession. Iran, who defended admirably until the ball ricocheted in off Costa, instantly showed more intent and thought they had levelled, only for Saeid Ezatolahi’s strike to be ruled out for offside. Carlos Queiroz’s Iran side had gone close through Karim Ansarifard and Mehdi Taremi before the crucial offside call and their endeavour throughout seemed to endear them to the crowd at the Kazan Arena. They survived a chaotic goalmouth scramble where Gerard Pique somehow failed to turn home from a yard out, but again showed heart and threatened late on, with Taremi heading over when well placed. Fernando Hierro, installed as Spain manager two days before the World Cup started, knows his side will reach the knockout stage if they draw with Morocco on Monday.

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