Portugal made a narrow escape into the round of 16 at the World Cup as Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty kick and was fortunate not to be sent off in the second half in a thrilling 1-1 draw with a heartbroken Iran side Monday to close Group B play in Saransk.
The reigning European champion finished tied with Iberian rival Spain atop the group with five points but lost out on the goals scored tiebreaker, finishing with one less than Spain’s six. Portugal, though, did move into a mouth-watering knockout round match versus Group A winner Uruguay on Saturday in Sochi that will pit two of the world’s best strikers against each other in Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
Ronaldo, though, was relieved he only saw a yellow card from referee Enrique Caceres, who endured his second torrid time in as many matches and will likely not be part of the officiating crews going forward. Caceres consulted VAR in clumsy fashion multiple times, including a review in which Ronaldo appeared to make contact with Morteza Pouraliganji’s face as he attempted to chase down a long ball on the left side.
While Pouraliganji made a meal of it as he theatrically dropped to the pitch, replays did show clear contact, and per FIFA’s rules, it should have been a direct red card and ejection.
Iran made a tough-luck exit in third place on four points despite conceding just two goals in its three matches. It was Team Melli’s best showing in four World Cup appearances since the field expanded to 32, but it was still not enough to make their first knockout round showing in team history.
Ricardo Quaresma gave the Navigators a 1-0 lead in first-half stoppage time, and that was canceled out on a contentious penalty converted by Karim Ansarifard in the 93rd minute. In between, Ronaldo was felled in the box by Saeid Ezatalohi eight minutes after the restart, but his attempt from the spot was well-saved by Iran keeper Ali Berainvand, who correctly dove to his left and caught the attempt.
Ansarifard’s penalty set up a dramatic final few minutes in which Mehdi Taremi fizzed a shot from seven yards just wide of the left post and into the side netting as Rui Patricio came out to cut down the angle. Taremi was inconsolable after the final whistle, sobbing face-down on the pitch knowing how close he had come to a historic victory.
Ronaldo quickly began his hunt for a fifth goal to equal England’s Harry Kane for the Golden Boot lead as he tested Berainvand from close range in the third minute.
The nerves were apparent on the backline for a Team Melli squad that knew it needed a victory and held a higher line than their previous two matches. Berainvand let a cross go through his mitts, and in the ninth minute, Joao Mario spurned an open net after Berainvand and Ezatalohi had a miscommunication that resulted in a hash of a clearance and the Iran keeper berating his midfielder before punctuating his words with a shove.
Team Melli finally settled down, with Ehsan Haji Safi earning a free kick in a dangerous area after nutmegging Silva, but Ramin Rezaeian blazed over from 20 yards. Ali Jahanbakhsh nearly got to a through ball in the 23rd, but Rui Patricio slid out to collect it and took a slight clip to the head for his bravery.
Iran continued to find space, and another free kick in the 34th minute resulted in a shot on target, but Ezatalohi’s header went right to Patricio.
Quaresma then became the oldest player in Portugal history to score in the World Cup at 34 years, slicing a shot with the outside of his right foot that evaded Berainvand for his 10th goal for the Navigators.
VAR told Caceres to take another look at the contact between Ronaldo and Ezatalohi, which led to him pointing to the spot and enraging Team Melli. Manager Carlos Queiroz was so incensed he tossed his jacket to an assistant and walked in the waiting area behind the dugout rather than watch Ronaldo try to score his 86th international goal.
In between Ronaldo’s failed attempts, Caceres booked both Haji Safi and Sardar Azomun for dissent, further incurring Iran’s ire. Ezatalohi and Quaresma then exchanged bruising fouls, with Ezatalohi taking the worse of the two as Quaresma earned himself what he felt was a justified booking.
Iran substitute Saman Ghoddos narrowly went wide in the 72nd minute shortly after his introduction, and Azmoun tried too hard to draw a penalty on William Carvalho that Caceres dismissed. After VAR determined Ronaldo had made contact with Pouraliganji, he looked at Caceres in disbelief when he brandished the card.
Morocco had a penalty shout when Azomun headed the ball downward into Cedric Soares’ right arm, but nothing looked to be coming from it until VAR called down to Caceres to review the play, with led to Team Melli’s lifeline.
Ansarifard went to the upper right corner over a diving Patricio to level the contest, and Mehdi’s last-gasp chance came when the ball got deflected by a Portugal defender into his path as he was going to his left, and he tried to first-time the shot that had Navigators supporters with their hearts in their throats before it went outside the left post.