Iran pragmatic but Mexico find a final flourish

It is difficult to describe Iran’s play without it sounding very much like the ‘plucky underdogs’ tag is being tied on, but their start to the game made a nonsense of their ranking some 18 places behind their opponents. Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian ploughed a tidy course through the midfield and released first Ali Karimi and then Hossein Kaebi.

Kaebi produced a terrific square ball back across goal but Vahid Hashemian’s extravagantly flicked heel couldn’t quite climb high enough to pluck it from the air and spin it goalwards. When the ball found its way back into the area, Hashemian’s header was powerful but wide.

It wasn’t until the clock neared 20 minutes that Mexico started to feel their way into the game. In the 28th minute Karimi was adjudged to have handled the ball and when Guillermo Franco flicked on a well-placed Pavel Pardo free-kick, Omar Bravo needed to do no more than turn his heel to put the Mexicans a goal up.

The reaction of the crowd suggested the real Mexico had now turned up and Iran’s accomplished beginning would be trampled from memory. But the south Americans failed to assert themselves on a visibly deflated Iran side. In the 36th minute Mehdi Mahdavikia’s corner had goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez flapping and Yahya Golmohammadi poked the ball into the top of the net from six yards out.

Heading into the dressing room back on terms was no more than Iran’s confident play deserved. The Mexico we had been promised, a Mexico that would come and attack with verve and lustre – be defensive, when they needed to be, but a Mexico that would sparkle nonetheless – had been absent so far.

However as the game wore on, substitutes Zinha and Francisco Fonseca gave Mexico the movement they’d been lacking and their probing and pressing found Iran’s weak spots. Ebrahim Mirzapour’s hurried clearance was pushed quickly back towards his goal and Zinha’s perfectly-weighted through-ball put Bravo one-on-one with the keeper and Mexico 2-1 up with just under 15 minutes left on the clock.

Three minutes later Zinha pushed the ball wide to Mario Mendez and carried on running, nodding Mendez’s pinpoint cross firmly home to make sure of the points. These were the two teams expected to do battle for second place behind Portugal in the group, but unless Mexico are thoroughly undone by the Portuguese in 10 days time, they look to have made it a short fight.

Mexico: Sanchez, Salcido, Mendez, Osorio, Pineda, Marquez, Torrado (Perez 45), Pardo, Franco (Zinha 45), Borgetti (Fonseca 52), Bravo.

Iran: Mirzapour, Golmohammadi, Rezaei, Kaabi, Nosrati (Borhani 81), Mahdavikia, Nekounam, Karimi (Madanchi 62), Teymourian, Hashemian, Daei.

Goals: Bravo 28, 76, Zinha 79; Gomohammadi 36