Portugal held on for dear life in the dying embers of their 1-1 draw with Iran to secure passage into the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup. A late penalty by Karim Ansarifard cancelled out Ricardo Quaresma's first half wonder goal, but it wasn't enough for Iran in the end.
VAR played a major role throughout the contest, adding to the suspense in the final minutes and keeping fans of both nations on the edge of their seats.
Quaresma stuns Iran
It was Portugal who started the better between the two sides and should've taken the lead just inside ten minutes. A tantalizing cross from the left caused confusion between Iran's goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Saeid Ezatohali, before the ball fell to Joao Mario, who fired his effort over the bar. Iran's first half gameplan was executed well early on, frustrating Portugal and hitting them on the counter attack.
Carlos Queiroz's side needed a win to secure qualification and almost took the surprise lead after half an hour. Alireza Jahanbakhsh's free kick was met by Ezatohali, but the midfielder's header was straight at Rui Patricio. A golden chance squandered by Iran, and one they'd regret before the break.
On the stroke of half time, Ricardo Quaresma gave Portugal the lead with one of the goals of the tournament. The winger played a quick one-two with Adrien Silva and delightfully curled a shot with the outside of his right boot, into the top corner. A trademark strike from the Portugal veteran and one of the finest goals of the summer so far.
It was a fairly quiet first half from Cristiano Ronaldo, who could only manage a few half-chances in front of goal and couldn't find his groove early on.
VAR, VAR and more VAR
The second half was far more fast-paced and drama filled as it took five minutes for VAR to get involved. After Ezatohali seemed to have brought down Ronaldo inside the box, the referee used VAR to award the penalty after initially waving away the appeals. It would be Ronaldo who stepped up to take the spot kick, only for it to be saved expertly by Beiranvand.
The momentum shifted after the penalty stop and Iran began to come forward in waves in an effort to come from behind. Substitute Saman Ghoddos narrowly fired past the post with 18 minutes to play as Queiroz's side continued to search for an equalizer. The Iranians had a case for a penalty with 15 minutes to go as William Carvalho clumsily brought down Sardar Azmoun, but VAR was used to wave away any protests.
Controversy swarmed with ten minutes to go as Morteza Pouraliganji went down from a challenge by Cristiano Ronaldo. The Video Assistant Referee showed that Ronaldo had caught the midfielder with an elbow, but the Portuguese star was only given a yellow. VAR once again came into play in stoppage time as a lengthy review harshly judged Cedric Soares to have handled the ball inside the area, awarding Iran a late penalty. After a lengthy delay, Karima Ansarifard powered the spot kick into the top corner to equalize late on, giving Iran a glimpse of hope.
That glimpse of hope almost turned into jubilant scenes as Iran came forward just a minute after equalizing. Mehdi Taremi found himself in space inside the box with the chance to be a national hero, but could only hit the side netting from close range. It was an agonizing miss from the forward, and one that should've been put away to send Iran through. Portugal did manage to hold on in the end, despite a nerve-wrecking final ten minutes and plenty of VAR debate.
Unfortunately for Portugal, Spain's late equaliser in their game and Ronaldo's penalty miss meant that Portugal would finish 2nd in Group B, setting up a Round of 16 date with Uruguay. Iran, who came so close to breaking Portuguese hearts, will head out of the World Cup with mindset of "what could've been."