Three Points: Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran
Three observations from Bosnia-Herzegovina's 3-1 win over Iran in Group F's final game at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
1. First World Cup win feels flat for Bosnia
When the draw was made, Bosnia-Herzegovina had dreams of defeating Iran in the final game to book a place in the second round. The first part came true, but the second did not.
There were no scenes of wild celebration as the final whistle sounded in Salvador. It was all a little flat and wasn't supposed to end like this.
This was a historic moment for a proud nation, a first win at any World Cup, yet it was difficult to get excited about this very wet and very dead-rubber game. The fact that the stadium was barely half full added to the anticlimactic feeling. Fans, players and everyone else will look back at that first game and Edin Dzeko's wrongly disallowed goal against Nigeria, and that will cloud perceptions of the entire tournament back home.
The Manchester City man was on target once again, and this time it counted. A low shot from outside the area was not the most fierce of strikes but arrowed perfectly into the bottom corner. Whatever the situation of the game, Dzeko was focused and in the mood to cause pain, and his goal was deserved.
The same could be said of Miralem Pjanic. The Roma midfielder has had a fine tournament and is at the centre of many of his team's attacks. He netted a well-taken second goal that really closed the lid on Iran's hopes of reaching the second round.
Bosnia-Herzegovina were too good for the Asians and possessed a scoring threat that the opposition lacked. All in all, the team have looked pretty good in Brazil, too, but in the end, they, like Iran, are going home.
2. Iran were not aggressive enough
If not much was known about Iran before the tournament, what we all know now is that this team can defend. Manager Carlos Queiroz has done a fine job in that regard.
Team Melli are hard to beat, and if it hadn't been for the best player in the world, Argentina wouldn't have managed to do just that. If Iran won the hearts and sympathy of the watching world on Saturday, they needed to win this on the pitch to have any chance, but it never really looked like it would happen.
Once again, Reza Ghoochannejhad, one of the hardest-working forwards in football, was ploughing the proverbial lone furrow in attack. It wasn't until Bosnia took the lead that Iran started to look threatening with Masoud Shojaei, that most mercurial of midfielders, hitting the bar from just inside the area.
Iran reacted well to going behind but were a little wasteful with set pieces and one down at the break. Most fans were expecting the introduction of Karim Ansarifard and Alireza Jahanbakhsh to add numbers and options to attack but instead got Khosro Heydari replacing fellow midfielder Shojaei. The hoped-for substitutes did appear, but by then it was all a little too late, and Iran never really showed the urgency and intensity going forward that they needed.
There was still fight, though, and after the team went two goals down, Ghoochannejhad got the goal he deserved with eight minutes remaining. Thoughts of a comeback were short-lived, though, as Bosnia went down the other end and scored. In the end, as many expected, Iran's demise came about because the team was unable to score enough goals. After none in the previous four hours, scoring three in the last 30 minutes was always going to be a tall order.
3. Both will think about what might have been
If refereeing decisions had gone a different way in previous games, this could have been a winner-takes-all playoff.
Against Argentina, Ashkan Dejagah was chopped down in the area, and play was waved on. The Persians have one of the most ancient cultures in the world and have very long memories. Fans will be talking about that decision for years. If a penalty kick had been given (and converted), it would have meant that Iran would have been able to do what they do best -- sit tight, play for the draw and hit on the counterattack. Alas, for Team Melli, the above scenario never came to pass.
Bosnia have even more reason to leave Brazil cursing the man in the middle.
Dzeko scored a perfectly good goal against Nigeria in the opening round, one that was wrongly ruled out by New Zealand referee Peter O'Leary, who was soon on the receiving end of death threats. Photos of the official hugging the Nigerian goalkeeper at the final whistle also did not go down well with Bosnia-Herzegovina fans. Bosnia were making a debut on the world stage and, like Iran, wanted a first appearance in the second round.
For years to come in Tehran and Sarajevo, when conversations turn to the 2014 World Cup, the mention of referees will never be far away. The World Cup can be a beautiful place, but both teams will leave with some bitterness.