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World Cup Diary

BATTLE OF THE QUESTION MARKS

GAME 24, GROUP D, JUNE 17, 2006 --FRANKFURT
PORTUGAL 2, IRAN 0
FINAL

Iran did not show itself to be much of a contender in this group in its first game against Mexico--itself a side that has been a bit underwhelming. So the Iranian president's plans to trip it to Germany can stop worrying the Germans. And looking at these first five minutes, the president may want to think of taking a vacation from watching for the next 85, too.

8... So far the game is living up to its question mark's billing.

12... DECO just took a fabulous shot on goal for Portugal that the Iranian keeper saved in a heavenward stretch that looked as perfectly timed as the shot.

14 Itran's Hashemian rocketed vdown from midfield into the Portugal box on a breakaway, had himself a clear shot on goal (his two Portugal defenders were fumbling around him, but not blocking him), but the ball's bounce conspired against the shot he wanted to make; mishit. Portugal responds with a wonderful run by Ronaldo, then two shots on goal that the defense and the keeper save. Iran won't be able to maintain this scorelessness very long.

20... Good, the game's temper is rising: more attacking by Iran's Hashemian, more physicality by the Iranian side overall: a better performance so far than against Mexico. Portugal has controlled the ball 70 percent of the time however, and done well with it if not for the Iranian defense.

28... The Portugal attacks continue, so do the goalless finishes, the shot wide of post: Figo is doing well, setting up ball after ball, but how long can he stay out there in this heat?

30... Another goal-post shot! Iran took that one, but Teymourian was off side anyway.

32... Portugal is overcionfident and underperforming, assuming too much of a supposedly porous Iranian defense and coming up empty against a much better side than we saw in the Mexico game.

34... Iran pulled another one of those big saves--by an Iranian player, chesting the ball away from goal, and then a Ronaldo shot that barely misses: yes, another goal-post shot. Figo is down and writing. He took an Iranian's studs right on the cheek, full force. A wonder his cheeck wasn't pried upen.

40... Our commentators are again off the mark today, beating up on Portugal more than Portugal deserves: Argtentina may have put on a "clinic" in yesterday's 6-0 thrashing, but there's also an element of luck in every one of these games. In Argentina's case, every shot went its way. In Portugal's case, every shot is finding the keeper perfectly positioned, or finding the goal post. They call baseball a game of inches? This is a game of millimeters, and the millimeters aren't going Portugal's way. That said, Iran has put up a firce defense, has put together a few nifty attacks, but it hasn't sustained the passing-game quality necessary to lead to a truly threatening attack on goal: not a single Iranian shot has found the area of the goal.

44... Portugal again misses a chance by inches, the boal floating by the mouth of goal like a lusty bug in front of an iguana's maw... but the iguana was asleep.

half-time and the living for Iran has been easier than expected: a 0-0 draw so far has the anti-Iranian demonstrators pausing for a moment to take in this surprise. Iran's president is suspending his internal vacation.

Second half... What this game cannot afford, what neither team should settle for, what we don't deserve, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is eleven angry men on each side playing to another scoreless draw, and spending more time playing Smackdown than football, as they are now. Portugal's Deco just earned himself a yellw for high-kicking, like it was tit-for-tat in response to the Figo smack earlier(do they have the same retaliatry instinct as pitchers do in baseball, when a player gets beamed?)

9... Pauletta, Portugal's all-time leading scorer, tried to back-heel a volley into goal. Terrific follow-up attack by Portugal, Ronaldo smacking it from the near post and forcing another lunging double-handed save by a keeper who must watch in desperation as his team repossesses the ball only to move it up to midfield then kick it from there, in a high, pointless lob, into the hands of the Portugal keeper.

12... Lucky for the two sides, the game is not being held in Nuremberg, where a tribunal would have adjudicated them both guilty of scorelessness and condemned them to watching Switzerland and Ireland and France games (the reigning trinity of scoreless football) for the rest of their lives.

62... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL PORTUGAL! It was all ART DECO TOO, on a swiveling pass from Figo at the wing, and Deco taking it almost at midflight and slamming it in the northwest corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.

68... IRAN ALMOST EQUALIZED ON A SHOT BY KHATIBI THAT DRIBBLED JUST WIDE OF THE POST, AND THE Portugal coach is yelling up a storm at Ronaldo for some reason. Iran is not giving up. The game's tempo has risen. We have a football match. But an attempted Iran breakaway fizzles, and Portugal responds, forcing a corner.

75... An Iran free kick just outside the box finds the face and the nose of a Portugal player, who nevertheless survives the scud.

78... Hashemian just took a fabulous shot saved by the Portugal keeper, Figo counterattacked, and was tripped just inside the Penlaty box for the tournament's second penalty shot, coming up.

Ronaldooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL 2-0

83... Portugal moves on, Iran relegated to a consolation game next week. Iran didn't play badly, and gave us a very entertaining game: football before politics, and in this regard no demonstrations necessary against the kind of performance the United States should take note of: this is how underdogs play: doggedly.

Iran just lost a man who was pushed down by Ronaldo; Ronaldo escapes without punishment. No, the Iranian player gets a yellow! and Figo finally comes out. Ronaldo gets a free kick from the wing, just past the box, and almost makes it 3-0.

90... But FIVE, count 'em, five minutes of injury time: Portugal wants to make a statement. No sitting back. Two successive Portugal corners now. Nothing doing, and a rough play denies Iran a breakaway chance. Neither team laying down in ther Frankfurt sun. Iran just got its first corner or the game, against Portugals 12! 22 shots on goal in all in this match, 17 of them for Portugal.

But it's also obvious that for all its grit and enthusiasm, Iran fail at the level of one-on-one skills: they cannot get past defenders, and they can't sustain an assault. And that's it for Iran this year.

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