Costa leads Spain past Iran

REUTERS  Dylan Martinez

REUTERS Dylan Martinez

Heading into the tournament in Russia, Iran had previously only won a single game at a World Cup against the United States in 1998, however after a tight and testing 90 minutes against Morocco, Iran were gifted a late victor thanks to an own goal in additional time.

Then, trailing in the second half, Iran almost equalized when Saeid Ezatolahi had a goal ruled out on video review.

Striker Diego Costa did brilliantly in the box to turn his marker but his initial shot rebounded of the legs of the defender and ricocheted off his knee and into the net to give Spain a 1-0 lead. "We were happier after the match against Portugal, but we only had one point".

DF Gerard Pique, 5 - Twice came close to marking his 100th cap with a goal from well-worked corners, but again looked less than secure at the back and was nutmegged in buildup to excellent Iran chance late on.

Iran did make a further good chance, Mehdi Taremi heading just over, but Spain - who will know and feel like they were in game - hung on.

But it was always going to be a big ask of Iran to pull off a shock result in this first ever meeting of the teams with history also against them as they had lost five of their six previous fixtures against European opposition at the World Cup, drawing the other. Spain is coming off the thrilling draw vs. Portugal and needs a win over Iran to leap into the position many expected it to hold in the group.

Spain pushed hard after the break, with Sergio Busquets unleashing a searing long-range strike that forced Beiranvand into a brilliant double save.

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Costa's goal proved the difference between the sides.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his fourth goal of the World Cup, with an early header the difference maker as Portugal edged out Morocco 1-0.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC.

Hierro was thrown into the deep end after being appointed just before the finals started, replacing Lopetegui, who was sacked for accepting a future role at Real Madrid without telling the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Costa got so frustrated with Iran's defensive tactics that he approached Beiranvand and provocatively stepped on his toes, leaving the 'keeper in visible pain.

"But this was our first match point, if we compare this to tennis, our second match point comes against Portugal". Bet on a tie game and tell your friends we told you so.

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