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Iran were inches away from a World Cup dream

Mehdi Taremi had the ball on his left foot in the 94th minute, with a chance to upset Portugal. It wasn’t to be.

Iran v Portugal: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

It looked like it went in.

With the game tied 1-1 in the 94th minute of the match, a shot from Iran on the edge box deflected off a Portugal defender and bounced into the feet of Mehdi Taremi.

He left the ball slide past him, lined up his left foot ... and placed the ball inches wide. It rocketed into the side netting, which fooled about half the stadium. The crowd — just for a half moment, not realizing the ball hadn’t gone in — cheered. They gasped. And then they went quiet, for they finally understood what had happened.

Iran controlled their own destiny on Monday. It seems weird to say that — they were going up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, they entered the day in third place behind their opponents and Spain in Group B. But Iran could advance without any help on Monday ... they just had to win. Sure, there was a scenario where Morocco could have throttled Spain (a closer match than we all thought) and they could tie Portugal, but Iran entered the match knowing they couldn’t count on that. There was one option: Win.

With that shot, they got closer than most would have ever expected.

Over the last two weeks, Iran showed us that they not only belonged at the World Cup, but that they deserved to move on past the group stage. They had outlasted Morocco in a tense game that they pulled out 1-0 off an own goal. They had gone toe-to-toe with Spain, losing by just one to the 2010 World Cup champions. And here they were, tied with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, and the ball was on the left foot of Mehdi Taremi with a chance to win.

And the ball drifted wide.

Iran v Portugal: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

That is soccer. A game where players cover miles over the course of 90 minutes and the result is so often decided by inches. This match, watched by millions the world over, with two countries’ sporting fate hanging in the balance, was decided by about two.

It feels horrifying and sort of disgusting to write this, but that miss will stay with Mehdi Taremi. It’s ignorant and/or lying to say otherwise. We can pay lip service to the fact that Iran had plenty of opportunities, and perhaps should have been given a second penalty, or that a game is never defined by one moment. That’s all true. But that won’t change the fact that a miss like that will be played countless times in the head of Taremi.

I played enough near-high level soccer to know the ones that stay with you. The ones you agonize over. The moments, like that one, where all you can think about is the motion of the leg, how if it were just a little different, you’re a hero. You think about the countless shots you’ve taken in that exact scenario before, where you wrapped your left foot around the ball and watched it fly into the net.

The ball missed the net by about two inches. It missed the sweet spot on Taremi’s foot probably by a few centimeters.

I hope Taremi can make his peace with it. I pray he can. They say the great ones have short memories, but that’s not really true. You always remember those moments. It’s more about making a choice, not about what you remember, but about what defines you.