BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Iran can still reach the second round of the World Cup by beating already relegated Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday, but it needs to do what it hasn’t done so far in the tournament — score goals.
Iran has faced criticism for its dour defensive tactics after a 0-0 draw against Nigeria in their Group F opener. The Iranians also spent much of their game against Argentina on Saturday packing the defense, but created several chances on counterattacks and nearly caused a major upset before allowing a late winner by Lionel Messi.
Against Bosnia at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz knows they have to forget about that disappointment and make sure their finishing is sharper.
“My major concern is to keep players focused,” said Queiroz, who is leaving his post after the World Cup because of lack of financial support from the Iranian government. “And, they’ll need to convert those chances.”
Iran must win to have a chance to go through, while Nigeria only needs a point against Argentina in a game that’s played at the same time. The need for a win means Queiroz will likely start with an offensive lineup on Wednesday, adding another striker to Reza Ghoochannejhad.
If Iran wins and Nigeria loses, they would both finish with four points and the second-place finisher would be decided by goal difference. Because of the previous results, though, there is a small chance that a lottery would have to decide who finishes second.
If Iran wins 1-0 and Nigeria loses by the same score, they would end up level on points and with the same number of goals for and against. The teams drew 0-0 in their game against each other, meaning the only remaining tiebreaker would be a drawing lots — something that has never been used to determine which team advances at a World Cup.
Proclaimed an independent state in 1992, Bosnia had been waiting more than two decades to appear at a World Cup, but was eliminated from contention after just two games.
Consecutive losses — 2-1 against Argentina in its opener and then 1-0 to Nigeria on Saturday — confirmed that the Bosnians will not advance from the group stage.
Bosnia coach Safet Susic, who has come under fierce criticism back home after the early World Cup exit, said it will be hard to motivate the players after the disappointments.
“Our obligation is to go out with honors, to leave a good impression,” Susic said. “It is a pity for this generation that it exits the World Cup so soon. They ran, fought and created chances.”
The Bosnians still wonder if things may have gone differently if Edin Dzeko’s goal against Nigeria in the 21st minute had not been ruled out for offside. Replays appeared to show the decision may have been wrong.
“What can be said after Nigeria?” asked Bosnia’s central defender Toni Sunjic. “However, we have to turn to Iran, try to win, leave better impression and go home with our heads up high.”
Susic is likely to field a team without its stars who have disappointed, especially Dzeko who missed several good opportunities in both matches.