Al RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — As protests that have gripped Iran emerged at the World Cup, its national team rallied late for its first win at the tournament in Qatar.
Rouzbeh Cheshmi scored in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time to break a scoreless stalemate and Iran went on to defeat Wales 2-0 on Friday.
Goal celebrations by the team were in contrast to the scene outside Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, where pro-government fans harassed anti-government national team supporters.
Iran’s victory came after a disastrous loss 6-2 to England in the opener in Qatar, as players were dogged by questions about the unrest back in Iran.
“I believe this was the solidarity between the team members that we were able to achieve this result,” Cheshmi said afterward through a translator.
His strike from outside the box was just beyond the diving reach of Wales backup goalkeeper Danny Ward, who was pressed into duty when starter Wayne Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute for a high challenge on Mehdi Taremi.
Ramin Rezaeian added a second goal moments later and Iran wildly celebrated — tossing coach Carlos Queiroz in the air — while Welsh players dropped in disbelief to the field.
“It was really very emotional, especially because we rebounded from a difficult situation,” Queiroz said, “Nobody likes to lose, and especially when you lose by those numbers. It is a tough job. But this is the beauty of the game, there is only one game in front of you.”
Iran goes on the play the United States on Tuesday for its final match in Group B. The U.S. was set to play England on Friday night.
Gareth Bale made his 110th appearance for Wales, the most all-time for the national team, but the Welsh appeared sluggish early after a 1-1 draw with the United States in their Group B opener.
Wales, which fell to last place in the group with the loss, faces a tough challenge in England on Tuesday.
“We want to finish the competition on a on a high, it’s out of our hands in regards to going through, but we want to finish with a good performance and a win,” Wales coach Rob Page said.
Wales is making just its second appearance at the World Cup and first since 1958.
Bale, who played for Major League Soccer’s LAFC this past season, remained stuck on 41 goals for the national team, despite surpassing teammate Chris Gunter (109) for most all-time appearances.
Recovering from the crushing defeat to England, Iran fared better against Wales for its first World Cup win over a European opponent. Iran has never advanced to the knockout round at a World Cup.
The Iranian team has been peppered since its arrival in Qatar with questions about unrest back home. The players, who did not sing the country’s national anthem in their opener in an apparent show of solidarity with protestors, linked arms and sang on Friday.
“Our job it is to produce joy, happiness, pride for the people. That’s our job. We’re not indifferent to anything that happens in the world. But we – like doctors, like engineers, like pilots – we need to do our jobs,” Queiroz said “We hope that this 90 minutes of entertainment really helps the people to feel that joy, that happiness and that pride,” Queiroz said.
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