The travelling Red Wall of Welsh supporters sang the familiar refrain of Don’t Take Me Home, but to prolong their stay in Qatar, Rob Page’s side will now likely have to beat England in their final game on Tuesday, after Rouzbeh Chesmi and Ramin Rezaeian both scored in stoppage time to earn a 2-0 win.
In truth, the late sucker punch was nothing more than Wales, who finished with 10 men after Wayne Hennessey’s red card, deserved, with Iran having already hit the woodwork twice in a performance unrecognisable from that served up in the 6-2 defeat to England at the start of the week.
Ahead of kick-off, Iran’s players had joined in the national anthem, amid reports of anti-regime protestors being harassed by government supporters outside the ground.
Iran refused to sing the anthem ahead of Monday’s Group B opener against England in a show of support for human rights protesters, hundreds of whom have been killed in demonstrations in the country.
There have been suggestions that the players and their families could face reprisals at home over the stance and though they joined this time in a notably subdued rendition of the anthem, boos and whistles were still heard around the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Page made only one change to the side that started the 1-1 draw with the USA, Kieffer Moore’s inclusion a no-brainer after his second-half cameo, but Dan James’s exclusion a surprise, the winger left out of a competitive international for the first time in four years, while Gareth Bale became the country’s most-capped men’s player on his 110th appearance.
Moore was denied at close-quarters by Iran goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini in the early exchanges, before Connor Roberts was let off the hook, a would-be opener for Ali Gholizadeh ruled out for offside by the VAR after the Welsh wing-back’s loose pass.
As against the USA, it had been a drab first-half showing from Page’s side, but this time there was no immediate reaction after the break either, as only sheer bad luck denied Iran the lead during a remarkable passage of play.
First, Sardar Azmoun slipped in down the right and lashed off the near upright, before Gholizadeh curled against the far post. Azmoun got to the rebound first but could not react quickly enough and headed straight at Hennessey.
Page went for broke before the hour, sending on Brennan Johnson and James but the switch left his side chasing the game with barely a midfield to speak of.
Iran broke again through Mehdi Taremi, who was wiped out by Hennessey’s high tackle sprinting out of his goal, referee Mario Escobar somehow issuing only a yellow card at first before upgrading to red after a review.
Wales were clinging on into nine minutes of added time but Cheshmi’s stunner and then Rezaeian’s dink on the break earned Iran a famous win.