SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Bosnia-Herzegovina ended Iran's hopes of advancing to the knockout stages with a 3-1 victory in Group F on Wednesday, registering its first World Cup win in the process.
The Bosnians, who were already relegated from the tournament, took a commanding 2-0 lead with goals from Edin Dzeko in the 23rd and Miralem Pjanic in the 53rd before Iran hit back in a desperate late bid to qualify for the second round.
Reza Ghoochannejhad gave some hope to the Iranians with a tap-in goal in the 81st, but Avdija Vrsaljevic replied immediately with his low shot from the edge of the area to restore the two-goal lead.
Iran needed a win to have any chance of advancing.
"Sorry to our opponents, but this was also an important win for us so we could hold our heads up high leaving this tournament," Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said. "Throughout the match we were those who wanted to win more."
The Bosnians were already out of contention at their first World Cup following consecutive losses to Argentina and Nigeria.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz brought in strikers Khosro Heydari and Karim Ansari Fard in the second half but the shift in system only netted one goal.
Playing at its fourth World Cup, the Iran squad faced criticism for its dour defensive tactics after a 0-0 draw against Nigeria. The Iranians also spent much of their game against Argentina packing the defense, but created several chances on counterattacks and nearly caused a major upset before conceding a late winner by Lionel Messi.
"I was a bit surprised by Iran, they needed a win and they were calculating," Susic said. "That backfired for them. Maybe they could not change their habits."
Queiroz said he could not change the defensive style with the players he had available.
"Susic has his opinion," Queiroz said. "The next time I will give him the opportunity to train Iran and I'll train Bosnia, and we will see."
"He has players who play in Roma and Manchester City, and whom do I have?" he asked, referring to Pjanic and Dzeko and Iranian players who mostly play in Iranian and smaller European clubs.
"You squeeze an orange and then you see that you have players who cannot be squeezed no more," he said.
"We played to the limits of our mental and physical capacities, and I'm very proud of my players," Queiroz said.
Bosnia created most of the chances in the match, with Dzeko — criticized for missing several opportunities during Bosnia's earlier two matches — firing a volley over the bar in the third minute, and then heading straight at the Iran goalkeeper from close range.
He opened the scoring in the 23rd with a low shot from 20 yards (meters) that deflected in off the post.
Pjanic doubled the lead a half hour later with an angled shot from inside the box. Iran's only genuine chances came after its only goal of the tournament came in the last frantic minutes, with Ghoochannejhad's close-range shot narrowly missing late.
Queiroz said he believes that Bosnia was the best team in the group.
"The best team of the group did not qualify, with all my respects to Argentina and Nigeria," he said. "Today, they played on another level."
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Asmir Begovic; Toni Sunjic, Emir Spahic, Sead Kolasinac; Avdija Vrsajevic, Anel Hadzic (Ognjen Vranjes, 61st), Miralem Pjanic, Muhamed Besic, Tino-Sven Susic (Sejad Salihovic, 79th); Edin Dzeko (Edin Visca, 84th), Vedad Ibisevic.
Iran: Alireza Haghighi; Pejman Montazeri, Jalal Hosseini, Amir Hossein Sadeghi, Mehrdad Pooladi; Andranik Timotian, Javad Nekounam, Ehsan Haji Safi (Alireza Jahanbakhsh, 63rd); Masoud Shojaei (Khosro Heydari, 46th), Ashkan Dejagah (Karim Ansarifard, 68th), Reza Ghoochannejhad.