Portugal is through to the knockout stage of the World Cup, but just barely.
Ricardo Quaresma's sensational opener appeared to put Portugal on its way to first place in the group, but late drama saw Karim Ansarifard equalize on a penalty, and Iran almost scored a winner that would have eliminated the European champions altogether. That stoppage-time shot was hit into the side-netting, though, allowing Portugal to escape with a 1-1 draw and a second-place finish in the group. The draw, paired with Spain's 2-2 draw vs. Morocco cost Portugal a chance to face Russia in the last 16, as it will instead be forced to square off with Uruguay instead.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a penalty kick saved in the match, and he was also perhaps fortunate to not be hit with a red card for a late retaliatory foul. As he did in the first two matches, he didn't waste time to get involved. In the third minute, he carved out space on the left-hand side of the box, firing a blast on frame, but right into the gut of goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, who made the save and then covered his own bobble without yielding a rebound.
Iran, as expected, bunkered and looked to get out on the counter, and its first chance to convert in that manner came in the seventh minute. Alireza Jahanbakhsh was sprung free down the right-hand side before crossing for Vahid Amiri at the top of the box. Instead of settling, he opted for a first-time chance, which was hit well wide left of the goal.
Iran averted a disaster in the 10th minute. Beiranvand was coming off his line to claim a ball in the box, but Saied Ezatolahi either didn't see or hear his goalkeeper and was first to volley it away. The ball landed for Joao Mario, 18 yards from an empty goal, but he fired high before the goalkeeper and his teammate got in a quick heated encounter.
Beiranvand's eventuful beginning to the match continued in the 13th minute, when he came out for one cross and whiffed and then had another slip through his hands, with ball falling right by his post only to be cleared to safety.
Iran nearly scored in the 34th minute off a well-designed free kick. It was set up by a reckless Raphael Guerreiro challenge, and after one Iran player feigned taking the kick, another served an inswinger, which Ezatolahi met, unmarked. He hit his header right at Rui Patricio, though, and the goalkeeper made the simple save to keep things scoreless.
Just as halftime approached, and Iran was set to go into halftime level despite conceding three quarters of the possession, Portugal struck. It came through Quaresma, who delivered a trademark trivela–a goal struck off the outside of his boot–for a sensational finish, making it 1-0 and sending Portugal, provisionally, to the top of the group.
Portugal appeared to catch a break in the 52nd minute, when VAR ruled for a penalty after Cristiano Ronaldo was taken down at the edge of the box. Initially the foul went uncalled, but the referee took a looked at the video and overturned his call. Ronaldo was denied from the spot, though, with his powerful attempt to the right well-saved by a diving Beiranvand, who covered the rebound to keep the score 1-0.
Needing two goals to go through, Iran pushed, and it nearly got an equalizer from Samah Ghoddos. The substitute lashed an 18-yard blast from the top of the box, but he put the low chance just wide of the post to keep the deficit at 1-0.
Ronaldo caught a break in the final 10 minutes, when he committed a retaliatory foul from behind on Morteza Pouraliganji, and the referee went to go take a longer look. What could have been a red card–which would have ruled him out of the last 16–was said to just be a yellow, letting the superstar escape a worst-case scenario.
Iran had a VAR ruling go its way in stoppage time. Cedric was ruled to have handled the ball in the box, gifting Iran a penalty. Karim Ansarifard converted, bringing Iran level at 1-1 and breathing new life into its hopes. With Spain level at 2-2 at the same time, also through a VAR-assisted goal, the possibility remained that Iran could win the group with another goal.
That goal almost came on the ensuing sequence, with a Mahdi Taremi shot hit into the side netting on an open look on the left-hand side, but Portugal held on, and by virtue of Spain's draw vs. Morocco, it goes through in second place due to the goals scored tiebreaker.
For the result of Group B's other match watch the highlights from Spain and Morocco's dramatic draw.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)
Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)
Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mahdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Notthingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis)
Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK, Sweden), Mahdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen)
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patrício (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cédric Soares (Southampton), José Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mário Rui (Nápoles), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (FC Porto), Rúben Dias (Benfica)
Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting), João Mário (West Ham), João Moutinho (Mónaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv), William Carvalho (Sporting)
Forwards: André Silva (Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting), Gonçalo Guedes (Valência), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas)
Manager: Fernando Santos