Kieffer Moore is the Welsh Olivier Giroud
Having impressed off the bench in the opener with the USA, the Bournemouth man again offered Wales a much-needed attacking focal point in the first half, this time from the start, allowing Gareth Bale more freedom (in theory) while the physical striker provided a target for the Welsh wing-backs as he occupied Iran’s centre-backs. Much as Olivier Giroud brings balance, if not always goals, to World Champions France, in an underappreciated role, Moore is far from prolific but Wales are a noticeably more effective side with the 30-year-old than without him.
Gareth Bale, a dragon without fire
Although Robert Page’s side edged the first half, offering the majority of creativity and invention up to the break, talisman Gareth Bale was oddly absent. The LA FC forward made just 19 touches in the first hour, the joint lowest of all 22 starters, as the game seemed to happen around him. Although past his peak, plenty of players with Bale’s quality offer far more to the sport at 33, and Bale’s meandering career across exile in Madrid, loan at Tottenham and bench warming in MLS, means he travelled to Qatar badly lacking in form and rhythm. It’s beginning to catch up with him.
Positivity wins out
Of the 17 games in Qatar, nine have seen goalless first halves as teams largely lead towards a more approach. However, Iran showed that positivity and intensity can be far more effective in such evenly matched games, of which there have been many. A rigid first-half display was replaced by a pacey, risk-taking second from Iran as they, much like Saudi Arabia and Japan before them, overwhelmed their opponents. The narrative around Iran on the field has focused on quality strikers Sardar Azmoun of Bayer Leverkusen and Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, but both were poor here. Instead, coach Carlos Queiroz will be thanking more unheralded players such as midfielder Ali Gholizadeh and full-back Ramin Rezaeian for a vibrant and passionate second period.