‘If we’re handing out insults for being fat, let’s have a go at him. Look at him!’
“I am still absorbing the news that Wales beat Hungary in 1958!” says Ian Copestake. “I mean, it was that Hungary! From 1958!”
It wasn’t quite That Hungary: Puskas and Kocsis were among those who did one after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, although Hidegkuti was still playing.
The Iran anthem will be watched almost as keenly as the football. It’s a complex, evolving situation, with a lot to take in, but these two pieces are a good place to start.
A bit more pre-match reading
It’s a sweltering afternoon in Al-Rayyan. As Gabby Logan has just said on the BBC coverage, bucket hats will come in very handy.
“Mae gen i barch enfawr at Iran, a’u safiad gyda’r anthem,” says Matt Dony. “Ond, dewch ymlaen, Gymru! Joe Allen is so important to Wales. He might not have the star quality of Ramsey or Bale, but he does things that no one else in the squad can do. If he gets a good run out today, and can maybe start against England, then that’s as positive as I could hope to be.
“I really like Dan James, but Kieffer Moore changed the game when he came on against the USA. He’s a decent striker, who seems to have an uncanny ability to raise his game when he plays internationally. Definitely the right call to start him today. Am I rambling? Who knows anymore. I feel sick. I’m staring at spreadsheets, and 10:00 feels like a long way away. It’s Wales, at the World Chuffing Cup!”
In other news, Rob Page and Carlos Queiroz have swapped jobs for the day
Essential pre-match reading
Wales (possible 5-3-1-1) Hennessey; Roberts, Mepham, Rodon, Davies, N Williams; Ramsey, Ampadu, Wilson; Bale; Moore.Substitutes: Ward, Davies, Gunter, Allen, Johnson, Morrell, Lockyer, J Williams, Harris, James, Thomas, Levitt, Cabango, Colwill, Smith.
Iran (possible 4-4-2) HHosseini; Rezaeian, Pouraliganji, M Hosseini, Mohammadi; Gholizadeh, Ezatolahi, Nourollahi, Hajisafi; Azmoun, Taremi.Substitutes: Niazmand, Abedzadeh, Moharrami, Khalilzadeh, Kanaanizadegan, Cheshmi, Jalali, Amiri, Ghoddos, Torabi, Karimi, Ansarifard, Jahanbakhsh.
Referee Mario Alberto Escobar Toca (Guatemala)
Carlos Queiroz has changed five of the team that lost 6-2 to England on Monday. The goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, who suffered concussion in that match and was briefly allowed to carry on despite not knowing his name, date of birth, nationality or even the last three digits on the back of the card, is replaced in goal by Hossein Hosseini.
The other changes? Ramin Rezaeian, Ali Gholizadeh, Saeid Ezatolahi and Sardar Azmoun replace Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Ali Karimi, Roozbeh Cheshmi and Milad Moharrami.
That should mean a change of system, from 5-4-1 to what the traditionalists call a four-man back four. Azmoun, who has 41 goals in 66 games for his country, joins Mehdi Taremi (32 in 62) in attack.
Iran (possible 4-4-2) HHosseini; Rezaeian, Pouraliganji, M Hosseini, Mohammadi; Gholizadeh, Ezatolahi, Nourollahi, Hajisafi; Azmoun, Taremi.
Rob Page makes one very obvious change from the side that started against the USA on Monday: Kieffer Moore replaces Dan James up front.
Joe Allen, who hasn’t played since mid-September because of a hamstring injury, is on the bench.
Who fancies another ride of the emotional rollercoaster? I’m afraid, if you’re Welsh or Iranian, you don’t have much choice. For different reasons, and in different ways, both countries ran the gamut on Monday. It’ll be no different today.
Let’s start with the football. Iran realistically need at least a draw to have any chance of reaching the last 16; Wales could theoretically lose today and still go through. But even in the unpredictable game of snakes and ladders that is the World Cup group stage, that’s not to be encouraged.
Their target is simple – a first World Cup win since Terry Medwin’s goal beat Hungary in a playoff on 17 June 1958, ideally with yet another who-writes-Gareth-Bale’s-scripts moment. Qualification may come down to goal difference, but it would be hubristic to think of that at this stage. Iran are a better side than their 6-2 defeat to England suggested.
But they also have other things on their mind. Even in this most political of World Cups, Iran’s situation stands out. I won’t editorialise here, and not only because I’m subconsciously terrified of inadvertently saying the wrong thing and being cancelled before a ball has been kicked. It’s a nuanced situation that is difficult to fully understand if you haven’t been following it intently from the start.
The players chose not to sing the national anthem before the England game on Monday, their latest gesture in support of those protesting against the shocking death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. There are fears of reprisals when the tournament is over, but also some confusion as to whether the local celebrations of that defeat on Monday were directed against the state, the team (for ‘insulting’ the anthem) or both.
We’ll come back to all that when the players line up for the anthems. I have to dash off and write some failed zingers for our rebranded daily football email, Football Daily – please su’scribe! – but I’ll be back with team news around an hour before kick off.
Kick off 10am GMT, 1pm at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.