Spain Narrowly Defeat Iran in 2018 World Cup, Join Portugal Atop Group B
Spain beat Iran 1-0 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday to draw level with Portugal at the top of Group B and set the stage for a climactic final day in one of the tournament’s must-watch pools.
Iran did their utmost to frustrate the 2010 world champions in a clash of styles, but Diego Costa eventually opened the scoring with a scrappy 54th-minute winner that ended up the evening’s only goal.
Group B rivals Portugal got their first win of the tournament earlier on Wednesday and moved into first place after a sole Cristiano Ronaldo goal led them to a 1-0 victory against Morocco.
Spain’s Attacking Frustrations Prove Possession Doesn’t Guarantee Points
On a night where the gulf in class between the two teams looked massive on paper, Iran’s regressive tactics almost looked capable of bringing Spain to their knees despite having less than a quarter of possession per WhoScored.com.
Costa has provided La Furia Roja with a classy-but-limited striker presence up front, and writer Andrew Gaffney highlighted how his presence alone up front wasn’t what they needed in a packed enemy box:
Lucas Vazquez was the surprise name in Fernando Hierro’s XI, one of two changes on the night, the other being Dani Carvajal at full-back to form a new-look right side.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Jones was more straightforward in his analysis, with Vazquez preferred by manager Hierro to a certain Real Madrid team-mate:
Indeed, despite having the worse season in Madrid this past term, Asension looked to be what was needed more so on the night, a more direct runner of the ball with a better eye for goal. That being said, Spain were rightly judged to have too much of a defensive focus given the opposition.
While Iran might have courted some praise for their stifling tactics in the first half, this was more a test of Hierro’s tactical nous considering the 3-3 draw with Portugal was something of a wild anomaly.
Powering away at the front door eventually worked out for the same Spain XI that started the match, not long after half-time, although Spanish reporter Andy West called for more action from the coach:
Not every game will be like this, and most opponents are sure to show more endeavour than Iran, who utilised a similar park-the-bus approach in their 1-0 win over Morocco.
However, Reading midfielder David Meyler expects better in the next phase of the tournament—assuming they make it there:
That goal is one step closer thanks to Costa’s intervention, but Spain need to add more strings to their bow and be more malleable in the face of their opponent after being slow to adapt against Iran.
Spain will end their Group B campaign against eliminated Morocco on Monday, while Iran face Portugal, where only a win would be enough to secure them a place in the round of 16.
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