This time we won, but the positivity after Spain’s performance against Portugal was in short supply. Iran had a psychological hold over us in the first half, shutting things down, playing a brand of brouhaha, foul-riddled football – sometimes dubbed ‘other football’. It came as no surprise because it was no secret that this was the side that Queiroz had concocted, with players missing, to get something from the game. Yet what struck me was Spain’s lack of composure in the first half, exacerbated by a lack of control from Uruguayan referee Cunha (perhaps slightly despondent after becoming the first VAR victim in the France-Australia game), who was teased and badgered by the Iran players with their remonstrations and dissimulation.
Fortunately, Hierro’s side reacted after the break and, after surely reflecting on first-half events, came out with more freedom, and started to string things together… for a while. La Roja found joy on both wings, created chances, and finally found the net after a neat pass from Iniesta reached Diego Costa, who controlled the ball nicely and had a stroke of luck as Rezaeian’s attempted clearance hit his knee and slid beyond Beiranvand. The ground work was done and the heavens should have opened, but what ensued came as a disappointment because as Iran came back hard we were found wanting.
Who doesn't suffer?
We didn’t keep hold of the ball and looked shaky at the back - Iran carved out chances, one of which found the back of the net but was ruled out for offside by the linesman, backed up by VAR minutes later after a nail-biting wait for final verdict. We eked out the victory and now have four points, making us group leaders after picking up one yellow card fewer than Portugal (because everything else in the group is even), but we suffered much more than expected. And it wasn’t just until we scored, but afterwards, when we failed to control the game and once again saw De Gea at the mercy of waves of attack at critical points. Having said all that this is the World Cup and, as Hierro pointed out, who doesn’t suffer?