Group D: Mexico, Portugal, Iran, Angola
Mexico v Iran June 11, 2006 Frankenstadion Nuremberg, Germany
Entering this tournament, Iranian supporters believed that TM had a nice balance of experienced and young players that would be able to get them to the next step in the world cup: the Second Round.
Iran had been coached by Croat Branko Ivankovic since 2003 and he felt confident of attaining good results.
Iran’s first match was against Mexico in Nurnberg. TM started off playing well and nearly took the lead on a header by striker Vahid Hashemian but Mexican keeper Oswaldo Sanchez made an excellent diving save.
Iran were the better side early on but Mexico took the lead in the 28th minute through Omar Bravo.
Eight minutes later, Mehdi Mahdavikia sent in a corner kick. Defender Rahman Rezaei headed the ball but was parried by Sanchez. The rebound was tapped in by the other center back Yahya Golmohammadi to tie the game 1-1.
The match remained tied at the interval. Later on that day rumors started to swirl that a conflict took place in the Iranian locker room at halftime. We will never know exactly what happened that day but TM looked like a different team in the second half. They looked as though they were upset and they clearly were not in sync with one another.
In the build up to the tournament, fans and writers were already criticizing Ivankovic for continuing to field captain Ali Daei. Many said he was already way past his prime and looked slower. They were absolutely right, TM were a better team without Ali Daei.
Mexico were clearly the better side in the second half. With fourteen minutes remaining in the match, Iranian keeper Ebrahim Mirzapour tried to clear the ball but his weak shot bounced off one of his teammates. Normally reliable and foreign based defender Rezaei could have cleared the ball to safety but instead he made a mistake as the ball bounced off his foot and went right to the Mexicans on attack. A pass was sent into the penalty area and Omar Bravo got his second goal of the match to put Mexico ahead 2-1.
The Iranians were clearly distraught from the goal and three minutes later Zinha headed in another goal to give Mexico a 3-1 victory.
I was at this game. It was a form of torture for me because I am half Iranian and half Mexican. I wanted the game to end in a tie. I remember being crushed after that game because I couldn’t believe that Iran were able to give up such terrible goal. It was ridiculous that Mirzapour couldn’t lift the ball high enough to safety despite being a professional footballer. I was also fuming about Ali Daei. It wasn’t his fault that Iran lost but he clearly had no business playing for Team Melli because of his age and his inability to be effective on the field.
Portugal v Iran June 17, 2006 FIFA WC Stadium Frankfurt, Germany
Iran’s next game would not get any easier as they would have to take on Portugal in Frankfurt. The one thing I was happy about was that Ali Daei was not in the starting lineup. Defender Yahya Golmohammadi would take over captain duties for this game.
Deco put Portugal in the lead in the first half. TM played hard in this game but all along it was obvious that it would have seemed to good to be true for Iran to salvage a point against such a great team.
Forward Vahid Hashemian almost scored off a header late in the second half but Ricardo made the save.
Minutes later Golmohammadi appeared to have fouled Luis Figo in the penalty area. The referee awarded a penalty kick but the replay showed that Figo did a little acting. Cristiano Ronaldo converted the penalty with ease and Portugal won 2-0.
The loss to Portugal ended Iran’s chances of qualifying to the second round. The last match against Angola would be for pride.
Iran v Angola June 21, 2006 Zentralstadion Leipzig, Germany
Entering this game, Angola still had the chance to qualify for the Second Round but the Iranians wanted to give their fans something to cheer about.
The first half was scoreless despite Iran having at least three good opportunities to score. Ali Daei was positioned perfectly to score but his header went high and wide. Daei was unmarked and it only gave TM fans more of a reason to criticize him.
Fereydoon Zandi came close but was denied by keeper Ricardo. The best chance came when Vahid Hashemian got his head on a corner kick from Mehdi Mahdavikia and beat keeper Ricardo but the ball was saved by the thigh of an Angolan defender.
To make matters worse, Vahid Hashemian picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Rasoul Khatibi.
The frustration for Iran continued in the second half when Flavio gave Angola the lead at the hour mark. Iran had been the better side throughout the match and found themselves down 1-0.
Fifteen minutes later, Iran had a corner kick. Mahdavikia took the corner and it was headed in by defender Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh to tie the game 1-1. It was a great moment for Bakhtiarizadeh as he was starting in place of Yahya Golmohammadi, he definitely made the most of his opportunity in the World Cup.
The game ended 1-1, both Iran and Angola would go home early.