SARANSK, RUSSIA – Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s missed penalty almost proved fatal for Portugal’s hopes at the World Cup on Monday but the European champions edged into the last 16 following a 1-1 draw with Iran.
An injury-time spot-kick from Karim Ansarifard cancelled Ricardo Quaresma’s stunning first half opener and sparked a frantic end to the six minutes added by controversial referee Enrique Caceres.
Iran did carve out the glorious chance which would have carried them into the knock-out phase but Mehdi Taremi hit the side-netting with only the keeper to beat.
Accordingly Portugal survived in Saransk to progress as runners-up, one goal behind Group B winners Spain who drew 2-2 with Morocco. Next up for Portugal are Group A winners Uruguay in Sochi on June 30 while Spain meet hosts Russia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 1.
“The important thing is to think about the [next] match, think about the game, get to know your adversaries and then to get well prepared mentally and physically, regardless of it being Uruguay or the hosts,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.
“These are different circumstance of course, the hosts have huge support and they’ve had a very good tournament, while Uruguay has high quality and top-notch players and they’re all excellent – but Portugal too.
“We have our weapons and we’re going to try to win.”
Iran finish third on four points, a heart-breaking one behind the leading pair, and ahead of Morocco on one.
They were given hope when, pressing for an equalizer, a video referee review secured an incredibly soft penalty when Cedric was deemed to have handled, though the ball hit him at point-blank range from a header.
Ansarifard converted coolly and Portugal were rocking as Iran threw everything forward. They attacked as desperately as Portugal defended.
Taremi could have been the hero who shot Iran into the next round for the first time but faced with Rui Patricio he missed the target from eight yards and Portugal survived.
“It’s such a big disappointment for us,” Iran’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh said. “We had a big chance at the end of the game, we could have scored and won it.”
It looked so different early on as Portugal had the better of the opening period before the 34-year-old veteran Quaresma broke the deadlock in the 45th.
He played a one-two with Adrien Silva at the edge of the box and used the outside of his right foot to curl an unstoppable shot past Iran keeper Ali Beiranvand.
“We did very well and have obtained our goal and now we have to recover and think about the next match,” man of the match Quaresma said.
“We have to continue with this mind-set of winning and then wait for the next match.”
Portugal were aware a defeat would almost certainly mean elimination and Santos freshened his side by bringing in Andre Silva, Adrien Silva and Quaresma, while Goncalo Guedes, Bernardo Silva and Moutinho dropped out.
Ronaldo, looking to return to the top of the scoring chart having been displaced by England’s Harry Kane, had a shot saved by Beiranvand inside three minutes.
Joao Mario fired over an open goal after a defensive mix-up and Beiranvand had an escape when he dropped an innocuous looking cross without Portugal being able to take advantage.
Ronaldo had scored all four of Portugal’s goals in Russia prior to Quaresma’s strike but had fallen behind Kane’s mark of five.
He had the ideal chance to bag another in the 53rd when the video referee deemed he had been fouled in the box by Saeid Ezatolahi but struck a weak penalty which Beiranvand saved to his left.
It was the first missed penalty from Portugal at a World Cup following seven successful conversions.
And the world footballer’s night could have been even worse had Caceres, again after consulting VAR, given him a red, rather than yellow, card for catching Morteza Pouraliganji with his elbow.
But Ronaldo, and Portugal, lived to fight another day. -DPA