So Portugal are not a one man team after all. On a sultry night in the Mordovia Arena, this dramatic draw with Iran meant Fernando Santos’s side progressed to the knock-out stage where they will face Uruguay. But it was done without any meaningful contribution from Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who defines them. Indeed, not only did Portugal’s captain and talisman have a penalty saved, he should have been sent off after the VAR noticed that he had thrust a sly elbow into the face of Morteza Pouraliganji. But, after consulting his pitchside screen, the referee flourished only a yellow card.
“Why?” demanded the incandescent Iran manager Carlos Queiroz. “The rules don’t say if it is Messi or Ronaldo it is only a little bit of an elbow. It is a red card. What is the difference between an elbow by Cristiano Ronaldo and everyone else? Is his a half elbow?”
But the truth is, if it was not Ronaldo’s night, it wasn’t Iran’s either. Despite the most dramatic of late comebacks, they have played their last in Russia 2018. And it is to the detriment of the tournament that their tens of thousands fans, with their incessant enthusiasm and their relentless parping of horns, are now going home. How they contributed. And at the last, how they suffered in Saransk.
For Iran the problem was that mathematics insisted they win. The draw they somehow engineered, deserved as it was, was never sufficient. Theirs is a side set up to defend, a side who had sparked Spain’s ire earlier in the tournament with their ten man defensive line. And they began this game once again more concerned with the opposition than with themselves. Mind, when the opposition contains Ronaldo it pays to be attentive.
And no one was more motivated to stop him than Queiroz. Once the would-be GOAT was his protege but since they fell out dramatically on World Cup duty in South Africa in 2010, he has turned into his nemesis. Studiously avoiding him in the tunnel before the game, Queiroz had sought to stop Ronaldo’s forward surges by stationing Saeid Ezatolahi in front of the back four, to act as a barrier against Portuguese assault through the middle.
The trouble was, moving forward in pursuit of the goal they needed required a level of tactical revisionism beyond this Iran side. When they attacked they looked nervous, lacking in belief and purpose. And too often lacking the ball.
Their task was made all the more pressing just before half time. Until then Portugal had huffed and puffed without any hint that they might create an opening. Then Ricardo Quaresma demonstrated precisely why he had been picked to replace Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva. Receiving the ball near the touchline he pushed it into the path of Adrien Silva who deftly returned it with a backheel.The winger then advanced into the area before arcing a beautiful shot beyond the Iran keeper Ali Beiranvand with the outside of his right boot. The first person to congratulate him was his captain Ronaldo, perhaps informing him he could do that.
From there, Iran had only one course. And it was clearly not one with which they were comfortable. The AZ Alkmaar forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh did his best, trying to find space, trying to work his way into the Portuguese box. He even fashioned a freekick of a sort Ronaldo himself might admire, when, after playing a cunning dummy, he curled the ball on to Ezatolahi’s head. But Rui Patricio was wise to it, showing Wolves fans what they might expect next season with a sharp save.
Ronaldo was not to be ignored, however. With Iran trying to attack, he finally dipped his shoulder and ran into the area, tumbling as he passed Ezatolahi. He was convinced it was a foul, but Enrique Caceres, the Paraguayan the referee was having none of it. Until, that is, someone had a word in his ear. After consulting his touchline video equipment, which clearly indicated Ronaldo had been tripped, he gave the penalty. But, smartly Beiranvand prevented him from catching Harry Kane at the top of the scoring charts with a smart save.
For a moment the Iranian fans thought this might be a sign; here appeared to be vindication. But despite their roaring, their team could not find a way forward. Their sense of frustration was hardly reduced when, after consulting the VAR again, the referee ruled that Ronaldo had elbowed Pouraliganji in the face but that his act only merited a yellow card. It was an action Queiroz described as being like Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of responsibility.
Iran finally had the moment they deserved when, consulting his video box for a third time, the increasingly embattled referee awarded a penalty for handball by Cedric. Cue pandemonium, a noise that was hardly quelled when the substitute Karim Ansarifard put his kick in the top corner of the net. Now with the whistle looming, Iran piled forward and Mehdi hit the side netting, sending half the stadium (and Queiroz) into raptures.
It was not to be. Instead their players sank to the turf in tears and Portugal, with Ronaldo free to play, move into the last sixteen. It was a result which left Queiroz convinced the world was against him.
“If there was some justice in football – which doesn’t exist – only one winner would have come out in this game. And that winner is Iran."
But in the record book, the statistics insist that Portugal advance. And with them a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Opta's statistical pointers
- Portugal have progressed from the group stage of the World Cup for the fourth time in their history (also 1966, 2006 and 2010).
- Iran have been eliminated from the group stage at the World Cup in all five tournaments they’ve competed in (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018).
- Both of Iran’s goals at the 2018 World Cup were scored in injury time (94:06 against Morocco, 92:48 against Portugal).
- Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma (34y 272d) is the oldest player to score on his first World Cup start since Yahya Golmohammadi (35y 84d), who did so for Iran in 2006 against Mexico.
- Iran are the second Asian nation in World Cup history to have won their first match at a World Cup but be eliminated at the group stage, after South Korea in 2006.
- Two of Cristiano Ronaldo’s three penalties at the World Cup for Portugal have been against Iran – he scored in 2006 but saw his effort saved in this game.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has a 50% penalty success rate in major tournaments for Portugal, scoring two (against Iran and Spain at the World Cups in 2006 and 2018 respectively) but also failing with two (against Austria at Euro 2016 and Iran today).
- Iran remain winless in eight World Cup matches against European opposition (D2 L6).
- Iran’s goal – scored after 92 minutes and 48 seconds – was the latest goal Portugal have ever conceded at the World Cup.
- Portugal have never lost a World Cup match when they’ve scored first (W13 D3).
Yet more controversy
Pablo Zabaleta is furious in the studio and says the VAR issues ruined the second half. It really was VAR at its worst - both penalty decisions looked wrong and now all we're talking about is the refereeing decisions rather than anything any of the players did.
Zabaleta genuinely looks so upset.
You are the VAR
That was pretty farcical (VAR-cical?) but how would you get on as the VAR? Play our interactive game to find out.
What a game
Where on earth do you start with that? Ronaldo missed a penalty and could have been sent off, Iran were awarded a late penalty that should never have been given, and they could have won it at the death with a glorious chance.
Full-time Iran 1 Portugal 1
The final whistle goes and it finishes Iran 1 Portugal 1. What a game, so much incident. The managers confront each other at the final whistle but end up hugging.
Iran are out; Portugal finish second in the group and will play Russia in the last 16. Blimey, what a ridiculous match.
90+ 5 min Iran 1 Portugal 1
Oh my Iran should score again! But Amiri puts a glorious chance from about eight yards out wide. Spain have equalised against Morocco so that would have sent Iran through. Portugal are second in the group as it stands.
GOAL! Iran 1 Portugal 1 (Ansarifard pen 90+3 min)
Ansarifard nails the penalty into the keeper's top left-hand corner.
90+2 min Iran 0 Portugal 1 - Penalty Iran!
This would be very harsh on Cedric but the fact that the referee has given it! Oh my word, would you believe it?! That did not look like a penalty.
90 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
VAR is consulted again about a possible handball against Cedric that would mean a penalty for Iran.
Six minutes to be added on...
88 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Ronaldo cleverly draws a foul from Hosseini, who absolutely loved giving the Portugal captain a sly little kick.
85 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Portugal make their final change - Moutinho on for Joao Mario.
Meanwhile, Spain are losing 2-1 to Morocco! A couple of goals for Iran here would send them through.
83 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
This is very borderline, but there is enough there to send Ronaldo off. It's more of an elbow, but there's certainly contact. Ronaldo looks on nervously...what's the referee decided? It's a yellow card. Blimey, a nation had its heart in its collective mouth there.
81 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Iran's players are furious, claiming that Ronaldo has punched Pouraliganji. VAR is being consulted! Oh my, this would be huge if he sent Ronaldo off!
79 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Portugal's game management here has been poor. They're not keeping the ball and inviting needless pressure on themselves by giving the ball away sloppily.
77 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Adrien Silva has another wild effort from range that flies high into the stands.
76 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
...no penalty. Queiroz responds with his final change - Ansarif comes on for Ezatolahi.
75 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Queiroz is asking for VAR to be consulted after Sardar goes down under challenge from Carvalho. And VAR is being consulted...
73 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Good effort from the substitute Ghoddos, who works a yard on the edge of the box but just drags his shot a few feet wide.
72 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
One of the Silvas - Adrien - tries his luck from about 30 yards out, but it flies way over the bar.
70 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Both teams make a change. Man City's Bernardo Silva replaces the goalscorer Quaresma for Portugal. Ghoddos replaces Jahanbakhsh for Iran.
Three Silvas on the pitch now for Portugal.
67 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Ronaldo weaves his way past a couple of Iranian defenders but is slightly off balance when he gets a shot off that skews well wide. It's quite funny to think how angry Ronaldo will be that he hasn't scored tonight.
66 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Quaresma has completely lost his head. He lunges into Ezatolahi and escapes with just a booking. Moments earlier Quaresma had been on the receiving end of a late tackle (not the one where he did the looking for blood trick). Retribution was definitely on his mind there.
64 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Quaresma milks the tiniest bit of contact and goes down clutching his face pretending to look for blood. Can I shock you? There is no blood.
61 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Only once in Iran's history have they scored twice in a World Cup game (against the USA in 1998). They need to do that here or they are heading home.
58 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Pepe does brilliantly to clear Mehdi's low cross from about six yards out. Portugal suddenly looking nervy. They should be out of sight.
57 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Iran want a penalty as Sardar collapses to the ground in the penalty area with Fonte close by. Nothing in that.
Queiroz then makes a change at left-back: Mohammadi on for the captain Safi who was booked only a few minutes ago for disputing the penalty.
56 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
In amongst all of that Safi and Sardar have been booked for Iran, and Queiroz has entered the pitch to try and clam his players down. Tempers fraying in Saransk.
53 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Ronaldo is denied! His penalty is saved by Beiranvand down to his left. A really poor penalty and Iran survive!
52 min Iran 0 Portugal 1 - Penalty to Portugal!
The referee Enrique Caceres has given it! That looked very soft indeed but a penalty it is for Ezatolahi's foul on Ronaldo.
Ronaldo will take.
51 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
Is that a penalty? Ronaldo falls to the ground with Ezatolahi in close proximity but the referee waves the appeals away. It looked to be the correct decision but wait just a minute, the VAR has told the ref to go and have a second look on the monitor.
49 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
As it stands, Iran need to score twice to qualify. They're still set up to sit deep and try and spring their opponents on the break.
46 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
We're back under way in Saransk. No changes for either side at half-time.
Iran have played really well but they were powerless to stop a moment of absolute genius from Quaresma, whose goal with the outside of his right boot separates the sides.
As it stands Portugal are top of Group B and will play Russia in the last 16. Iran must score and hope Spain concede if they are to go through (or score twice themselves and render what happens in the Spain game irrelevant).
Half-time: Iran 0 Portugal 1
After being frustrated for most of the half, Portugal go in at half-time a goal to the good and - coupled with Spain drawing 1-1 with Morrocco - top of the group.
45+2 min Iran 0 Portugal 1
We're playing three minutes of added on time.
GOAL! Iran 0 Portugal 1 (Quaresma 45 min)
Oh my, that is absolutely sensational! Quaresma plays a one-two with Adrien Silva and with the outside of his right boot bends a magnificent effort into the top corner from about 25 yards out. That is one of the goals of the tournament!
44 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Ronaldo tries to win a corner down the Portugal left but ends up succeeding only in chesting the ball out of play. That rather sums up Portugal's half.
42 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
A bit more purpose from Portugal ends with Quaresma improvising an outside of the boot shot from about 10 yards out. The effort flies over the bar from a tight angle.
40 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Ronaldo tries his luck from about 35 yards. It's a decent effort but is slightly deflected and ends up straight down Beiranvand's throat.
39 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Another Iran half-chance. They have a real threat on the counter but Amiri misplaces a pass meant for Omid just inside the box.
36 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Iran have been brilliant and their supporters superb. But please: enough with the vuvuzelas.
35 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Jahanbakhsh delivers the free-kick, which Hosseini meets with a powerful near-post header that unfortunately for him is straight at Patricio.
34 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Guerreiro, who was exposed in the first couple of games, is booked after scything down Jahanbakhsh. It came from another really pacy, purposeful Iranian break, and it's a free kick in a dangerous position out wide on the right.
31 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
A clash of heads at a Portugal corner sees Fonte and Sardar looking a little groggy. Thankfully both look ok to carry on.
29 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
More diligent work from Iran ends with the striker Sardar nipping in to win the ball back and then winning a free-kick off William Carvalho. Portugal look increasingly frustrated.
27 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Iran are sitting very deep, and Portugal are struggling to find any space. Ronaldo tries to slip in Andre Silva but he's comfortably offside.
25 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Iran look dangerous again, but Amiri can't quite latch on to Omid's through ball. Amiri inadvertently catches Patricio as he goes for the ball, and the Portugal goalkeeper is down receiving treatment. He'll be fine.
22 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
It's a decent effort from Ramin but it flies a few feet wide of Patricio's goal.
21 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Spain have equalised through Isco, so Spain now lead Group B. Meanwhile Adrien Silva gives away a free-kick in a dangerous area for pulling down Safi. Dangerous position for Iran.
19 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Spain trailing Morocco 1-0 means Portugal are top of the group as it stands.
18 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Adrien Silva wins a free-kick about 25 yards out, just to the right of the goal. Ronaldo fancies it but smashes his shot into the wall. He appeals for a handball but to no avail. Nothing in that.
15 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Portugal win a couple of corners and unsurprisingly stick them right under Beiranvand's crossbar. He deals with them a bit more comfortably.
Meanwhile in Kaliningrad, Morocco have taken a shock lead against Spain. As it stands, Spain will still be going through but an Iran goal here would send them packing.
14 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Iran's goalkeeper Beiranvand comes flapping out at Quaresma's cross and gets nowhere near it. Thankfully for him Hosseini is there to hack the ball away. Moments later, Beiranvand completely spills another Quaresma cross, but again his defenders mop up the danger. Horrible moments for Beiranvand.
11 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
What a mix-up that is! Beiranvand is absolutely furious after Ezatolahi seemingly ignores his goalkeeper's shout and clears Adrien Silva's cross straight to Joao Mario. Joao Mario should do better but blazes an effort over the bar from the edge of the area. Beiranvand shoves Ezatolahi in the chest in frustration.
Lovely to see.
8 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Iran break really cleverly, but Amiri makes a mess of his shot from the edge of the box after arriving late and latching onto Mehdi's square pass. Decent opening for Iran, who up until then had barely gotten out of their half.
6 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Andre Silva gets bundled to the ground by Ramin near the touchline but the referee waves play on. Iran very physical early on, as we expected them to be.
4 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Early shot from Ronaldo. He bustles his way into the box and pings a shot off from about 12 yards out that Beiranvand does well to hold onto.
2 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
Guerreiro is chopped to the ground by Omid in what is a real 'welcome to the game challenge'. Iran clear the resulting free-kick. Huge noise from the Iran supporters.
1 min Iran 0 Portugal 0
We're under way in Saransk. Iran will qualify with a win; Portugal need just a point to go through, and to better Spain's result to top the group.
The group winners play Russia in the last 16; the runners up will play Uruguay.
A reminder of the teams for this one.
Iran (4-3-2-1): Beiranvand; Ramin, Hosseini, Pouraliganji, Safi; Jahanbakhsh, Ezatolahi, Omid; Mehdi, Amiri; Sardar
Portugal (4-4-2): Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; William Carvalho, Adrien, Joao Mario, Quaresma; Andre Silva, Ronaldo.
The teams are out
It's a sell-out crowd at the Mordovia Arena, as the two sides belt out their respective national anthems. Iran look to have by far the majority of the fans inside the stadium.
Those Portugal changes in full
Now pay attention 007, because this is a little Silva-heavy.
Andre Silva, Adrien Silva and Ricardo Quaresma come in, while Goncalo Guedes, Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho drop to the bench. Iran replace Karim Ansarifard with Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
No Bernardo Silva is a suprise
Ricardo Quaresma replaces him. Portugal remember are almost certainly out if they lose here.
Who's going to win tonight? Let our clever machine tell you based on what you think the most important factors will be.
Down to the wire
There is the possibility that tonight could end in sensational fashion with the drawing of lots. That is if Portugal and Spain both win or draw with the exact same scoreline and end up with the same number of bookings (Spain as it stands have one fewer booking).
The draw would take place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow at 9pm BST this evening. It couldn't happen, could it?
Spain take on Morocco in tonight's other game.
Iran (4-3-2-1): Beiranvand; Ramin, Hosseini, Pouraliganji, Safi; Jahanbakhsh, Ezatolahi, Omid; Mehdi, Amiri; Sardar
Portugal (4-4-2): Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; William Carvalho, Adrien, João Mario, Quaresma; Andre Silva, Ronaldo.
Three changes from the team that scraped to a 1-0 win over Morocco.
What will Portugal's tactics be tonight?
Our expert JJ Bull has taken a close eye at Fernando Santos's team, and brings you this video...
How Group C looks going into the match
Portugal need a draw to qualify for the last 16.
The Ronaldo roadshow rolls on
The final group games continue tonight, with Portugal in action against Iran. A draw will be enough for Portugal to qualify for the group stages, while Iran will qualify with a win. The picture is complicated by what Spain do against Morocco in the group's other match tonight, but essentially Portugal need to better Spain's result to top the group.
There's a big incentive in topping the group because the winners will face Uruguay rather than Russia in the last 16. Earlier today Uruguay were very effective in brutally dismissing the hosts Russia 3-0 in Samara.
Back to Group B and the matter in hand ... Portugal will be hoping not only to win but to produce a performance more convincing than the turgid fare they produced in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Morocco. Manager Fernando Santos is known for his pragmatic tactics, but even he accepted Portugal were disappointing in the way they sat back after taking an early lead.
Cristiano Ronaldo was of course the man who scored their goal to add to his hat-trick against Spain on match day one. Ronaldo has scored all of Portugal's goals at this World Cup, and he will be desperate to get a couple tonight to leapfrog Harry Kane in the Golden Boot race. Ronaldo will also want to make a point to Iran manager Carlos Queiroz after the pair fell out at the 2010 World Cup when Queiroz was Portugal manager.
Queiroz, for his part, will be focused on stopping Ronaldo tonight as his team look to build on their impressive - if ultra-defensive - performance against Spain last time out. Iran ended up losing 1-0 but were very close to nicking an unexpected point.
Given their need for a win tonight, Iran will at some point need to come out and attack. Don't expect that to happen until the latter stages though, especially if Portugal fail to score early.
Portugal should get this done, but they're going to have to work for it.