Sunday, June 18, 2006

Portugal Progress Without Persian Protest

Portugal v Iran

It was something of a wrench to leave Frankfurt, a cosmopolitan city that had really thrown itself into hosting the World Cup. It is not only the main entry point by air for visitors to Germany, its location makes it a convenient staging point for many other venues – leading to a real sense of being in the middle of the world’s greatest tournament.

After spending time in the rather isolated host city of Leipzig and the even more isolated non-World Cup venue of Dresden, it felt good to be coming back to Frankfurt for a flying visit, one that featured not only the Portugal – Iran fixture but also a welcome recharge of those World Cup batteries.

Unfortunately, there was little time to head to Frankfurt's 'Fan Fest', a gallery of riverside seats looking out onto a giant screen in the middle of the Main. Nearby were lots of amusements and stalls to keep Frankfurt families and football fans alike well-entertained and well-refreshed.

Not being able to head to the river or any of the seemingly thousands of friendly bars and pubs that had big-screen televisions, friendly atmospheres and great beer wasn't too much of a hardship as my route from the main station led in the opposite direction – the WaldStadion - as did those of thousands of fans from around the world.

The Iranians on the concourse and platforms could be heard first and then seen but only as a jumble of flags and a mass of white-shirted bodies jumping up and down. Their opposite numbers were there in similar numbers but with the difference in volume being that of sound.

As I had only decided to come to the game at the last minute, I was on the waiting list for a press ticket. That wasn’t going to be a big problem after checking FIFA’s official media website and learning that only two other people were in a similar position. With an average of over 500 press seats per venue, there was always a number of no-shows, leading to tickets to be redistributed an hour before kick-off.

Not showing up is not a problem for the world governing body as long as the tickets are cancelled before hand so people can be upgraded from the waiting list. Not showing up and not letting FIFA know is a big no-no and the fact that over 250 people had, probably wisely as it turned out, in England’s opening game with Paraguay led to every media organisation receiving e-mails that warned of future repercussions for repeated offences.

Possible withdrawal of accreditation privileges wasn’t on the minds of Iranian fans that were in massing outside the stadium, they were more concerned about their beloved national team crashing out of the tournament after only 180 minutes of play.

Portugal’s laboured victory over Angola in the opening game may not have impressed the watching world but it did earn a valuable three points in a group that may not have had any death-like connotations but was not straightforward with teams from widely differing geographic locations.

That win and Iran’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Mexico six days earlier in Leipzig meant that the situation was fairly simple. A Portugal win sent the European team into the second round and Team Melli out.

Portugal were on top from the outset and remained that way for the majority of the ninety minutes. Christiano Ronaldo was at times wasteful (failed tricks that had the nearby Jorge Baptista throwing his arms up in frustration) but his direct running, shooting and crossing caused problems for a slow Iranian defence and Deco was impressive in midfield.

Iran seemed reluctant to move the ball forward quickly, preferring to walk the ball from one end of the pitch to another and it was little surprise that they rarely troubled the Portuguese defence and goalkeeper.

Still, Branko Ivankovic’s team defended well for most of the game with the under-fire Ebrahim Mirzapoor making some good saves but it was a touch of class from Deco in the second half with a smart shot from outside the area that did the damage.

Iran really should have been back on level terms but substitute Rasoul Khatibi held on to the ball too long in a one-on-one situation and dragged his shot just wide and soon the Iranians were two down and heading home.

Copyright © John Duerden and Soccerphile

Iran Team Profile

Portugal Team Profile

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