Group D
Portugal 2-0 Iran

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Portugal earned a place in the knockout stages courtesy of an unconvincing 2-0 win over Iran in Frankfurt.

Second half goals from Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo were enough to secure the points and they will top the group if they can secure a draw against Mexico next week.

With the roof closed at the Wald Stadion to keep out the intense heat in Frankfurt, there was relief from the stifling temperatures for players and fans alike.

Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari made three changes to the team that beat Angola in the first game, with Franciso Costinha, Maniche and Deco coming in for Armando Petit, Tiago and Simao Sabrosa. Portugal were looking to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 1966, while Scolari was looking for his ninth consecutive World Cup win.

Iran dropped veteran striker and record goalscorer Ali Daei after he complained of a back injury following their 3-1 loss to Mexico. Daei, who subsequently said he was fit to play, was replaced by Vahid Hashemian.

Unsurprisingly, Portugal dominated possession in the early stages but with Pauletta, playing on his own up front against a posse of Iranian defenders, the goal threat was limited.

Deco, making a rare foray into the Iranian penalty area, brought the first save of what promised to be a busy afternoon for Mirzapour, but the Iranian keeper did superbly to palm a fierce left footed drive over the bar.

Maniche was unlucky not to open the scoring when he connected with a Luis Figo free-kick, but his goal-bound volley was deflected over the bar.

Ronaldo was often the outlet ball for Portugal and although he clearly had the beating of the Iranian defence, but his tendency to over-elaborate combined with a poor final ball, resulted in some quizzical looks from his frustrated team-mates. Despite his inconsistency, the Manchester United player still looked like he would be the one to open up Iran and he came close just after the half-hour mark when he burst into the penalty area and sent a shot fizzing wide.

The game was held up for a couple of minutes when Figo was caught in the face from a the flying boot of Kaabi. The foul merited an automatic red card, but fortunately for the Iranian the referee missed the incident.

Indeed Iran appeared to believe that their best chance of disrupting the rhythm of Portugal’s patient passing game was to adopt a physical approach, and shortly after Figo’s near decapitation it was Miguel’s turn to receive treatment following a hefty challenge.

Miguel was soon back in action and he almost broke the deadlock when he burst into the penalty area but his drive was deflected just past the post by Mirzapour.

As the half-time whistle approached the growing frustration was etched on the faces of a number of Portuguese players. Iran had come with a game plan and on the evidence of the opening 45 minutes, it was working.

Scolari’s side began the second half brightly and Mirzapour was again called into action to parry a Ronaldo shot. It was a rare positive contribution from the winger who exasperated his team-mates with his penchant for tricks when a quick pass was required.

Just as Portugal appeared to be running out of ideas, up stepped Deco to break the stalemate. Set up by Figo the Brazilian-born playmaker struck a wonderful first-time shot from the edge of the area past Mirzapour.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Meira misjudged an innocuous long ball to let in the substitute Khatibi, but with only Ricardo to beat he dragged his shot just wide.

Portugal’s nerves were eventually settled when Figo was brought down in the area by Yahya Golmohammadi and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and dispatched the penalty into the top corner to double the lead.

The victory allowed Scolari to maintain his 100% winning streak at the World Cup finals, but he must be concerned at the unconvincing manner of today’s win. With tougher tests on the horizon, Portugal will need to improve significantly if they are to mount a major challenge in Germany.

For Iran, their journey is already at an end. They were competitive, but at this level they lack the quality to be anything other than also-rans.

Probable teams:
Portugal: Ricardo, Miguel, Meira, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche, Deco, Ronaldo, Pauleta, Figo.

Subs used: Petit 67 (for Maniche), Tiago 81 (for Deco) Simao 88 (for Figo).

Bookings: Pauleta 45, Deco 48, Costinha 61.

Iran: Mirzapour, Kaabi, Golmohammadi, Rezaei, Nosrati, Nekounam, Mahdavikia, Karimi, Teymourian, Madanchi, Hashemian.

Subs used: Zandi 65 (for Karimi), Khatibi 66 (for Madanchi) Bakhtiarizadeh
88 (for Golmohammadi).

Bookings: Nekounam 20, Madanchi 32, Kaabi 73, Golmohammadi 87.

Referee: Eric Poulat (France)

Portugal: Deco 63, Ronaldo 78.

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