Who? Iran - Portugal
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 25, 20:00 (CET local time)
Iran (Uri Levy)
Iran is about to play its most important match in its football history, and its for many reasons. A victory over Portugal, and Iran will go for the first time in history to the knockout stage. It is also a private derby for Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach of Team Melli, who was coaching Portugal in 2010 and was fired after a loss to Spain. He is now the longes serving coach Iran national team has ever had.
The movement of letting Iranian women to enter football stadiums in the country is progressing and advancing thanks to the World Cup. The sportive interest & achievements, as well as the high presence of female Iranian fans in the national team games are an imminent proof for the Iranian government that football is stronger than politics.
The match against Spain was broadcast for families and women at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, for the first time in 37 years. The movement for opening Iranian stadiums for women is led online by the Twitter account @openstadiums which is doing a massive work in arousing the awareness to the matter.
Against Spain the Iranian fans has stole the show and made Kazan sound and feel like the Azadi itself. The atmosphere in the Kazan Arena was simply electrifying. The Iranian fans took over the Tatarstan capital, present everywhere from the streets, to the metro, all the way to the stands.
Carlos Queiroz surprised all by leaving Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Iran's star player on the bench, instead starting with Mehdi Taremi and Karim Ansarifad with Sardar Azmoun, for whom it could have easily been a home match as he plays for local Russian club, Kazan. The Iranian defence was highly organised and coped well with the Spanish attempts. Iran did not fell apart from the Spanish goal, but attacked, defended well, and even scored an equaliser, which the linesman called off. “That’s ok, we are going to the last game with our heads up. We have a knockout spot to fight for”, Queiroz told BabaGol after the match.
The last match day in Group B is going to be as intense as it gets, as a serious option to make history is on the line for the Iranians.
Portugal (Yossi Medina)
The narrow win of Portugal against Morocco doesn't make an easy life for them. At the end of the day, Portugal are just one point above Iran and the match against Queiroz and his players may be crucial. Portugal, the European champions, are might facing an early elimination for the second consecutive World Cup.
Portugal face Iran once in the World Cup. In 2006, they won 2:0 from goals of Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was Ronaldo's debut goal in the World Cup and today he is the hottest player in the tournament with four goals. As usual, he is rewriting the history of his team, as he is the first Portuguese to score more than three goals in a single World Cup since Eusébio in 1966.
Another one who is facing the history is the manager, Fernando Santos. Four years ago, as the manager Greece he succeed to qualify for the knockout stage with just four points and a negative goal difference. For Portugal it will be much harder to do same this time, as they probably will be eliminated with a defeat, unless Spain will be defeated by Morocco with a higher score.
The Portuguese are anxious, but they are aware to the fact that they are the favourites. If they will manage to be calm and patient as Spain played against Iran, there is no chance that Portugal will finish this game without the necessary points.