Wales’ lack of defensive midfield presence has potentially cost them their place at the Qatar World Cup after two late Iran goals finished off the 10 men Dragons.Embed from Getty Images
Iran came in off the back of their thrashing by England with a clear game plan. Soak up the pressure, draw Wales in, use their attacking enthusiasm to their advantage with all energy focused on counter attacks. And they did just that. Whenever, Wales’ attack was eventually found out, Iran would explode forward, mounting unexpected pressure on the Welsh defence.
Wayne Hennessey bailed them out on almost every occasion despite his lack of recent game time for Crystal Palace. However, if Wales had someone to prevent the counter attacks before the likes of Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham and Ben Davies were put on the back foot, perhaps the Welsh World Cup hopes wouldn’t solely rest on their final group B game versus England.Embed from Getty Images
Ehtan Ampadu started in the middle of Wales’ midfield and was clearly the most defensive player out of Aaron Ramsey and Harry Wilson. Throughout the game, it seemed Welsh fans were crying out for Amapdu to soak up the Iranian counters to not only protect the defence, but allow Ramsey and Wilson the ability to express themselves. As proven until his substitution in the 77th minute though, Ampadu is simply not that kind of player.
In the 16 minute, Conor Roberts poor pass into the centre gave Iran the perfect opportunity to run at the Welsh defence. With a lack of presence in front of the back line, Ali Gholizadeh and Sardar Azmoun easily shifted the ball around the alone Rodon. Gholizadeh eventually tapped the ball home but luckily for Wales manager Robert Page, the goal was ruled out for offside.
Wales most fortunate moment of the match came when Iran hit the post twice during the same attack. Azmoun initially broke away into the Welsh box from a counterattack but hit his near post. Shortly after, Gholizadeh drifted inside and tried to curl a stunner into the top-left corner but was denied by Hennessey’s woodwork. The start of the sequence once again came from the lack of a sitting midfield presence in the Welsh team. Had Ampadu been just in front of the back line, Davies may have not been drawn to close down the Iranian attack and instead marked Azmoun breaking away.Embed from Getty Images
There was only so long Wales could get away with setup during the turnovers, and in the 86th minute, they no longer could. Alireza Jahanbakhsh initiated yet another Iranian counter with a long ball through to Mehdi Taremi. The Welsh back line was once again caught out and Hennessey, who’d been one of Page’s best players all game decided to deal with the problem himself. Rushing from his goal, the 35-year-old tried to clear the slightly over-hit pass but missed the ball and smashed into Taremi, denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity through foul play.
Mario Escobar initially gave Hennessey a yellow card but after a short VAR check, the first booking was rescinded and replaced with a straight red. Hennessey had saved his team once more with perhaps the biggest sacrifice you’ll see at the tournament, but his and Wales’ World Cup journey couldn’t be saved.Embed from Getty Images
Iran saw their opportunity and took it when Hennessey became the third ever goalkeeper to be sent off at a World Cup. With Wales down to ten men, the Iranian counterattack got even easier. Three minutes after Rouzbeh Cheshmi’s strike, Iran burst away from the Wales press once again with four players on two defenders. Ramin Rezaian displayed his immense energy one final time by sprinting into the space behind Daniel James, receiving the ball and chipping it over Danny Ward with sheer composure.Embed from Getty Images
Joe Allen replaced Ampadu to return to the pitch for Wales after missing their first game against the US and if not for his injury, should’ve started. The current Swansea man controlled the tempo for Wales and fulfilled the gap in Page’s side with surreal energy. At 32-years-old, the former Liverpool player was the perfect fit to engulf Iran pressure and channel the ball into Wilson and Ramsey. For the thousands of Welsh fans showing their support in Doha, it was a huge shame Allen couldn’t start over Ampadu.
Cheshmi delivered the first blow of Wales’ misfortune eight minutes into added time with a wonderful strike from outside the box. Until then, there was hope amongst the 6,000 Welsh fans inside the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium that the Dragons could snatch a win. However, with perhaps the less convincing option of Ward now in goal, Cheshmi controlled the ball, looked up and squeezed Iran’s third goal of the tournament into the bottom-right corner.Embed from Getty Images
Neco Williams was the best Wales player on the pitch against Carlos Queiroz’s Iran. Following the tragic news prior to the USA game of the passing of his grandfather, Kelvin Jones, the Liverpool youngster was a great attacking outlet. Throughout the first half, Williams dribbled up from left-wing back to give his side their only real attacking threat. On one occasion when it looked as though he’d knocked the ball out of play, Williams knocked it past Azmoun with a tidy back heal to burst away from the Bayer Leverkusen man.
Kieffer Moore started his first World Cup game against Iran in place of Daniel James. In the previous match versus the US, Moore came on after half time and provided Wales with the attacking option they lacked in the first period. The Bournemouth striker in his second game though, didn’t come close to the impact he had against the Americans.
Wales dropped to bottom of Group B after Iran overtook them and the US. For Page, that means it all comes down to their last game against England, where three points is the only option if he wants to guide his country out of the initial three games. If the Dragons were to miss out on the next round, it would be the first time in their history of major international tournaments.