The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mexicoís perseverance paid off
- Late defensive blunder ends Iranís gutsy fight
Talking Tactics

PK Banerjee

The final scoreline read 3-1 in favour of Mexico, but those figures donít reveal the entire story, the story of Iranís gutsy fight for an hour and a quarter before losing the plot in a tragic turn of events.

We watched wide-eyed as underdogs Iran held sway over the worldís fourth-ranked team in the opening session of this group D encounter. The next half-hour saw Mexico clawing their way back but still finding the Iranians a tough nut to crack. Then came a moment of madness in the Iranian defence, and it was all over for the Asian hopefuls.

Defender Rahman Rezaei, who had played his heart out till that moment, was ironically the principal culprit. Thirteen minutes remained on the clock with the board showing 1-1 and the compact Iran team looking capable of snatching a point from their more fancied rivals. Goalkeeper Ebrahim Mirzapour made a half-hearted clearance, but would have still got away with it had a casual Rezaei not given away possession to Zinha.

The Brazil-born medio produced a good touch to lay the ball for Bravo who tapped in his second opportunistic goal.

It restored Mexicoís lead and killed Iranís chance of an upset result. A third goal by the rejuvenated Mexicans followed soon after, this time Zinha heading in a perfect cross from the right.

A match they controlled for the better part lipped out of Iranís grasp in a matter of minutes. An unpardonable mistake cost them a point. You canít take a chance in the defensive third, for there is none to back you up. Rezaei could easily be having a sleepless night for this blunder.

It was so typical of an Asian team ' they often match their higher-ranked rivals on the big stage till the closing minutes and then give it all away by losing concentration. It also reminded me of the Indian hockey team which has lost innumerable matches by conceding goals in the final few minutes.

Full credit to Mexico, though. They took the lead against the run of play, let in the equaliser against a rampant Iranian team, but still hung on spiritedly in the hope that their rivals would make one mistake. Their perseverance paid off.

Iranís first half performance was indeed praiseworthy. What really impressed me was their compact game. Maintaining a 10-metre gap between the three lines ' defence, midfield and forwards ' rather than the traditional 15 metres, they ensured that support was on hand whenever required.

The defensive organisation, spearheaded by Mehdi Mahdavikia, was almost flawless. The midfield, marshaled ably by Bayern Munichís Ali Karimi, ruled over Mexico. And in the forwardline, Vahis Hashemian was always a thereat to the Mexican defence though veteran Ali Daei was well covered.

The Mexicans didnít get any elbow room, they were not allowed to play more than three passes at a time.

Iran, in fact, could have scored before Bravo put Mexico ahead against the run of play. Hashemian first couldnít get a foot to a cross from right and then goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who returned a day before after attending his fatherís funeral, palmed away a well-directed header which had goal written all over it.

Perhaps there could have been a different story to tell if Iran had gone into lemon time a goal or two up.

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