Carlos Queiroz saved their best until last as they held Portugal to a draw on Monday, earning their fourth point of the 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign. Their best tally ever was still not enough to see them advance to the next round.
Team Melli set up in their usual compact method and battled for every ball. Once they had gone behind to a trademark Ricardo Quaresma strike, the Iranians threw everything forward and were rewarded with a late equaliser through Karim Ansarifard's penalty. The equaliser was too little too late as IR Iran needed all three points to advance to the knock-out stage for the first time in their history.
Pouraliganji shuts down Ronaldo
Morteza Pouraliganji capped off an impressive World Cup campaign with another outstanding performance against Portugal. The 26-year-old was handed the monumental task of keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, and he proved he was up for the challenge, preventing the Portuguese talisman from adding to his four World Cup strikes so far.
In fact, Pouraliganji nearly got his man sent-off after Ronaldo was caught elbowing the defender, but was let go with a yellow card as he grew increasingly irritated by IR Iran's number 8's tight marking (see below average positions map).
The Al Sadd centre-back completed eight defensive actions in IR Iran's own half, limiting Ronaldo to two shots on goal in addition to his saved penalty kick.
Missed chance only half the story for Taremi
Seconds before the final whistle, still buzzing from their late equaliser, Team Melli went all out for the winner and a desperate Saman Ghoddos effort was deflected onto the path of Mehdi Taremi who found himself one-on-one with Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Taremi hit the wrong side of the netting from close range, consigning his side to finishing third in their group. And while that moment will probably be his lasting memory from the game, the Al Gharrafa forward was in fact one of the best performers on the pitch.
Deployed in a left winger role, the 25-year-old worked hard all night, contributing to both phases of play, as evident by the fact he completed 11 defensive actions, while getting more touches (20) than. any of IR Iran's attacking players.
IR Iran needed 93 minutes to score just their second goal of the campaign. The equaliser came from Ansarifard's spot kick after Sardar Azmoun forced a Cedric Soares into handling the ball inside the box.
The aerial duel that led to the penalty was Team Melli's first successful cross all evening and only one of five attempted crosses, four of which came after the Portuguese goal.
In Azmoun, Queiroz had at his disposal one of the finest headers of the ball in Asian football, but the strengths of the Rubin Kazan striker were not utilised properly by Team Melli who were left to rue failing to make the most out of their talented array of attackers.