x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

'Lucky' Diego Costa denies provocation of Iran keeper in narrow World Cup win

Atletico Madrid striker, who scored game's only goal, courted first-half controversy when he walked towards shot-stopper as he prepared to kick out ball

Spain's Diego Costa, right, celebrates with his teammate Isco after scoring his side's opening goal against Iran. Frank Augstein / AP Photo
Spain's Diego Costa, right, celebrates with his teammate Isco after scoring his side's opening goal against Iran. Frank Augstein / AP Photo

Diego Costa rejected claims he intentionally stamped on Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand during a tense 1-0 win over Iran but conceded his crucial match-winner for Spain came down to "luck".

Frustrated throughout by a dogged defensive display from the Iranians, Costa courted first-half controversy when he walked towards the Persepolis shot-stopper as he prepared to kick out the ball.

The Atletico Madrid front man got so close he stood on Beiranvand's toes, causing the 'keeper to wince in pain and drop to the ground.

The gesture went unpunished by Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha, and Costa went on to find the net with a 54th-minute strike that rebounded off the leg of defender Ramin Rezaeian.

Asked about his gesture afterwards, Costa lashed out by claiming Iran had been the main culprits.

"What game were you watching?" Costa said when probed by a Spanish journalist. "They were provoking us, we were on the grass all the time, you can't just say that because it’s your national team."

Costa now has three goals from two games, only one less than Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo's tally of four.

Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw with Spain in Sochi, where Costa scored a double.

"I'm not competing against him [Ronaldo]," Costa, however, added.

But the big Spain striker conceded his goal against Iran was fortuitous.

"I had a bit of luck with the goal, but I'm happy because it was a very tight game. The important thing today was to win," he said.

Spain, looking to emulate their 2010 triumph when Andres Iniesta hit an extra-time winner to deny the Netherlands in the final, now sit top of Group B before a final match against Morocco, who restricted Portugal to a 1-0 win earlier on Wednesday.

Iran, still on three points following their opening win over Morocco, will not give up on their "dream" of a place in the last 16, their Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz said.

Iran manager Carlos Queiroz, left, is determined to guide his team to the knockout stages. Robert Ghement / EPA
Iran manager Carlos Queiroz, left, is determined to guide his team to the knockout stages. Robert Ghement / EPA

________________________

More from 2018 World Cup:

Continental drift: out of Africa and seemingly out of the World Cup

Analysis: Why Ronaldo and the set-piece experts are rocking World Cup 2018

WATCH: Riding for Ronaldo, Portugal fan completes road trip to Russia for World Cup and charity

Download: The National's World Cup 2018 wall chart

________________________

Indeed, they twice threatened to level in the second half, seeing one goal ruled offside and a late header from Mehdi Taremi go just over David de Gea's crossbar after Vahid Amiri had nutmegged Barcelona star Gerard Pique.

"We will keep on working for our dreams, and our dream is to try and qualify for the second round," Queiroz said. "We know it will be difficult, but as I said before we came here and didn't expect easy things.

"We lost the top spot in the group, but the reality is this: our dream is not over.

"Against Portugal, it will be match point for us. Portugal were up against a great Morocco team today."