In the end, there was to be no historic maiden appearance in the FIFA World Cup knockout round for Iran.

There was no tale of redemption for Mehdi Taremi, who was poised to lead Team Melli where they never had been before after his two-goal opening display against England — four years on from when his crucial last-gasp miss against Portugal ended his team’s hopes of progressing at Russia 2018.

For a talented group of players regarded as Iranian football’s golden generation, they once again came up short in agonising fashion.

But unlike four years ago, this failure will be a far more bitter pill to swallow.

For one, needing just a draw against United States at Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday to advance, the Iranians failed to rise to the occasion as they fell to a 1-0 defeat.

When the dust settles, they will realise that the Americans were the ones who had kept their composure better, had been methodical in their build-up play, but also showed the greater determination — as illustrated by Christian Pulisic‘s winning goal in the 38th minute when he put his body on the line to sweep home Sergino Dest‘s headed layoff and ultimately had to be replaced at halftime.

Iran were laborious in the first half then severely lacking in imagination after the break, with the Americans increasingly willing to sit back and consolidate their lead.

Even with time running out, Team Melli showed a remarkable lack of urgency as they opted to patiently work the ball around — often moving the play all the way back to goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand — rather than put pressure on the United States defence at every opportunity.

If there was ever a time to exalt ‘route-one’ football, that was it.

When they did previously get the ball into the box early from wide areas, it had already proved effective with Saman Ghoddos twice missing the target from decent positions.

Right at the death, Morteza Pouraliganji had one final chance to force the draw that would take Team Melli through – only to send a glancing header from Ramin Rezaeian‘s inswinging delivery.

Not long after, the final whistle signalled a deserved win for the United States that sent them through to the last 16, and confirmed another group-stage exit for Iran.

The disappointment was evident in the Team Melli ranks and so it should be.

They had their chances. They failed to take them.

Unlike four years ago, when they had to contend against heavyweights Spain and Portugal and still came within a point of advancing, the task was not nearly as complicated this time around.

Granted, defeat to England was always likely but having dominated Wales in a 2-0 triumph, there was no reason why they could not have done the same against United States had they shown similar level of endeavour, guile and composure on Tuesday night.

Iran will know they could — and really should — have been preparing to feature in the World Cup knockout round for the first time ever.

And that in itself should be the most bitter of pills for them to swallow.



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