Football can be incredibly cruel sometimes. Usually, a 3-1 scoreline indicates a convincing win. But it was quite the opposite when Guinea took on Iran in a Group C clash at the Fatorda stadium in Goa on Saturday night. By the end of 90 minutes, Guinea were the team that did the convincing, but Iran had won the game.
For an hour, Guinea were a better team than Iran in a every aspect. They moved faster, passed quicker and had more chances to score. Despite a cautious start, Guinea quickly found a higher gear as Iran sat back and tried to soak up the pressure. But tides turn quickly in football, especially if there are red cards involved. Minutes after Iran had conjured up a goal out of nothing, Guinea, in a single stroke of madness, gave away a penalty and also went a man down. An hour of hard work undone in the space of five minutes. Iran were up 2-0 and they could barely believe it themselves.
The game started slowly with both teams sussing each other out and unwilling to take risks. Nobody tried to venture far out. Only Guinea seemed eager to even attempt the same. It was clear from the beginning that Guinea preferred to move the ball aerially. Several hopeful long balls were sent flying into the final third, but the Iranians settled in deep and didn't allow the Guinea forwards to win the second ball. Guinea's tentativeness was not surprising as they have one of the youngest squads in the World Cup. Only one player in their starting XI on Saturday night was 17. But their first real chance came through the youngest of them all. Much has been said about Djibril Fandje Toure, Guinea's 14-year-old forward who finished top scorer at the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Within 15 minutes, he showed that it was not hollow praise. Guinea's number 10, Aguibou Camara put an excellent ball on the right and found full back Samuel Conte who had pressed high up. Conte, finding himself in ample space, sent a cross inside the Iranian box. Naby Bangoura was in the area, but the ball was too high for him. Suddenly, Toure came flying out of nowhere and met the ball. The crunching header had goal written all over it, but was only denied by the far post. It was fine play from the 14-year-old and he was unlucky to have not scored on the occasion. By now, Guinea's coach Souleymane Camara, sensing a goal, was shouting at his team to press forward.
Around the half hour mark, Toure again found himself in the thick of it. He was through on goal from the left, courtesy a long ball again. However, his left-footed shot was kept out by Iranian keeper Ali Zadeh. Iran's dangermen Mohammad Sharifi and Mohammad Ghaderi were mostly quiet till now. They did try to release their forwards on the counter, but the Guinea defenders quickly closed them down. Iran also wasted a few good dead ball situations. Guinea, despite keeping over 60 per cent of ball possession, weren't able to string together passes and preferred to move the ball up quickly through the aerial route.
By half time, there wasn't much between the two sides, but Guinea had three good chances to take the lead. They showed urgency as the second half began and had another look in at goal. In the 51st minute, Bangoura ran down the right flank and put the ball in. Toure controlled it well and passed it to Seydouba Cisse, who then laid it off for Camara, only for him to shoot waywardly over the crossbar.
Just as one sensed that Guinea were inches away from taking the lead, Iran took it themselves out of nowhere. Vahid Namdari, who had come off the bench just minutes ago, had an instantaneous impact. He was released down the right flank and did well to put a decent ball in the box. Left back Issiaga Camara was lazy to clear the cross and Allahyar Sayyad pounced on the second ball, dribbled it out of the box, turned and shot a screamer into the top corner of the net.
Iran led through a moment of brilliance. It was all downhill for Guinea from there on. Iran, who had played at the same stadium at the AFC U-16 Championships last year, suddenly woke up and discovered their attacking capabilities.
Guinea's centre-half Cherif Camara received his marching orders when he flying-kicked Ghaderi who was rising to meet a cross from the right. It was Sharifi who scored coolly from the spot to extend Iran's lead and end Guinean hopes of a comeback. One could see that the goal meant a lot to him, as he fought back tears. There were two more late goals, but neither affected the outcome which had already been sealed. Iran's third was a soft one. Guinean goalkeeper Ibrahim Sylla fluffled his clearance on an incoming long ball and substitute Saeid Karimi pounced on the ball and put it into the empty goal.
Guinea's only consolation, however, came through a stunning 91st minute strike by Toure. The young forward who had been knocking on the door for long, finally put himself on the scoresheet, but it was of little consequence. Nothing can be taken away from the superbly crafted goal though. Camara found Ibrahima Soumah, who passed into the path of Toure. The 14-year-old striker, in a single flow of exquisite movement and skill, rounded a defender, and calmly opened up his body to put the ball in the net. Guinea had lost the game, but Toure had everyone's attention. There is no doubt the forward is highly skilled and is an fantastic prospect.
It wouldn't come as a surprise if European scouts already have him in their sights. Despite Guinea's dominant display for much of the game, the blame falls on them for not converting their chances early on. Credit must also be given to Iran's coach Abbas Chamanian, whose substitutions completely turned the game on its head. Iran also showed considerable poise while defending a barrage of Guinea attacks.
It feels absurd to praise a side that won 3-1 for its defending, but such was the story of the match. There was much to be desired in Iran's attack. Ghaderi and Sharifi must pick up their game before they go against Germany. Guinea, meanwhile, need to find alternate scoring options aside from crossing it to Toure. He won't score every day. Even if he does, he won't stop the other team from scoring.
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Updated Date: Oct 08, 2017 17:56:54 IST