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World Cup Diary

OPEC BATTLE

GAME 40, GROUP D, JUNE 21, 2006 --LEIPZIG
IRAN 1, ANGOLA 1
FINAL

Actually Angola isn't an OPEC member but it sounded good. All eyes I imagine will be on the Mexico-Portugal match at 10 a.m. (EST), even though this is really the match that holds more promise: Angola's Black Antelopes have played two excellent games so far, full of spirit and joy, which is more than can be said of the other three teams in this group. Portugal is assured a berth in the second round; it will play either the Netherlands or Argentina. Mexico can assure itself a berth if it gets at least a draw with Portugal. It will move on even if it loses, depending on the Angola-Iran outcome. Here's the math: for Angola to beat Mexico in the standings, Mexico would have to lose by enough goals, and Angola win by enough goals, that the current goal differential (+2 for Mexico, -1 for Angola) is erased. If Mexico loses by two goals and Angola wins by two, Angola advances. Anything less assures Mexico of a date with Argentina (assuming Argentina wins its group). The last two days have finally broken free and produced a good amount of goals, about ten each day. If that continues we're in for a treat.

5... Iran have other thoughts on their mind--to come out of Germany with a bit of honor salvaged from what has been one of the more dismal performances of any team. The most dismal? Saudi Arabia at least got a tie.

But Portugal is helping Angola: They just took a 1-0 lead against Mexico. The antelopes are in Iranian territory, but an Iranian is down.

12... So far the antelopes look unable to make something happen even though Iran aren't spectacular either.

14... Until this attack and shot right at the angolan keeper's face! But Angola are awakening too.

20... The last six minutes have had more Angolans down than a ball in play. Two players taken out on stretchers? This is ridiculous, and it isn;t helping Angola's chances. Add the Iranian injury, and we have a bloodless bloodbath on the field. Substitute for Angola already. Not a good sign.

23... Play finallyt resumes, Iran fires a free kick right on target, fisty save by the Angolan keeper. But Iran maintains the attack, the same Iranian, unmarked in the box, heads it up and high: he had a wide open goal. PORTUGAL SCORES AGAIN! So far the story is going Angola's way, but play isn't. The Portugese want their old colony's company in the next round.

27...IRAN ALMOST SCORED! A corner kick, a slam, and the only thing that stopped it was an Angolan player planted at the far post, luckily putting his midsection on the ball. And still it stayed in play in the six yard box, but Iran couldn't capitalize on the scrmable. This is not the antelopes we've come to love and cheer.

Meanwhile Mexico on an almost identical play scores on a corner, this time the ball finding goal because no Mexican was standing at the far post. Very exciting all this, but I'd be happier if the Africans made a better go of it. That second Portugal goal came on a penalty kick.

33... Three successive ... make that four successive corner kicks for Angola. Finally cleared, Angola maintains possession, shoots a grass-skimmer from outside the box, just wide, and no power anyway. Yet another Iranian on the sidelines.

45... Angola are ending their first half disappointingly, Iran are ending it with hopes of actually making it out of Germany with three points.

But two good chances for Angola to end the half, and yet another player down.

Second half...

Both sides come out fighting, but Angola still not finding its stride. And Akwa, the team's most lethal striker, is out. The Antelopes are dozing. They need a little snake-bite to get them going.

Mexico had a chance to tie their game with a penalty, but its striker pulled a Baggio and sent the ball sailing high above goal.

57... Iran with a clear-eyed shot on goal, saved but the rebound is back in play, Iran sends it aloft. Lucky break for Angola.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL ANGOLA!

Long-distance cross to Flavio all by himself inm the box, he jumps and heads it in perfectly: a terrific goal, and one more sends Angola in a frenzy.

67... The yellow cards are raining down on Angola. And Iran have kept the ball in the Angolan half for the last several minutes. But Angola just put a carbon-copy of its goal-scoring play in action, this time saved by Iran's keeper.

70... Angola needs two goals to make it, not one, if it's to overcome the goal-differential that currently favors Mexico.

75... IRAN GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! A HEADER OFF A CORNER!

79... Angola's fortunes have just sunk half-way down the Atlantic. Three goals in ten minutes? Not quite possible against an Iranian side looking for a win now. That's too bad. Angola brought excitement that lacked in Mexico's game.

Five minutes left for anything like a miracle for Angola, but the ball keeps finding the Angolan half, and when it's on Angolan boots, like now... There were enough red shirts in the Iranian box, but the keeper looks enraged as he punches balls out of everyone's reach.

89... Iran still attacking, Zandi with a strong header just above the Angola crossbar. So Portugal-Mexico is over. And it looks like so is Angola's dream run. This didn;t loook like the time for back-heel showmanship, but Angola went for it.

Free kick Angola just outside the box. Nothing.

Angola came so close. Two draws, one loss. It's not unreal to say that Angola had it in them to have three wins, the way they played, but not today: Iran outplayed them and they looked deflated, as if the weight of the unexpected had finally caught up to them.

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