Ricardo Quaresma earns 8/10 for wonder goal that carries Portugal into knockout rounds
Portugal are through to the round of 16, although not without an almighty fright at the end of a nerve-shredding match for Selecao fans in Saransk on Monday. A spectacular Ricardo Quaresma goal seemed to have set Portugal on their way to a victory that would have won them Group B. But a VAR penalty for Iran levelled the scores in stoppage time, and in the very next attack the 10 million people of Portugal almost had a collective heart attack as a late chance for the Asian team thundered into the side netting.
Adrien Silva was brought into midfield and gave the side energy and aggression that was evidently missing in their previous games, in an improved all-around display. Pepe, not for the first time, put in a magnificent display, and Quaresma scored a goal of rare aesthetic beauty as is his wont, this time on the biggest of stages.
Despite playing better than in their two previous matches, Portugal rarely seemed in complete control. After his blistering start to the tournament, captain Cristiano Ronaldo had a rare off day and was even at risk of picking up a suspension as he was subject to a red card VAR review --- which, thankfully from Portugal's point of view, ended in a yellow.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- At Euro 2016, Fernando Santos showed he was not afraid to mix things up in terms of his starting lineup and utilise his full squad. He made three key changes after two poor performances, and Adrien Silva, Andre Silva and Quaresma repaid the faith shown in them with solid displays.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Rui Patricio, 7 -- Always alert, racing off his line in lightning-quick fashion to smother a chance in the first half, and dealt with the few efforts Iran managed with little trouble. Powerless to save a perfect penalty.
DF Cedric Soares, 7 -- Another strong defensive performance by the right-back, marred somewhat by an extremely harsh penalty decision when the ball brushed his arm. Superb piercing pass to Quaresma on 29 minutes set up an extremely promising chance for Portugal, but the winger miscontrolled the ball.
DF Pepe, 8 -- The fact that Pepe is everyone's (outside Portugal) favourite pantomime villain should not disguise the fact he is an exceptional defender. Portugal fans are used to seeing monumental displays by the big centre-back, and Monday was one more for the collection.
DF Jose Fonte, 7 -- Another solid game from Fonte, who has so far allayed fears he would be off the pace for this tournament and is again building a formidable barrier at the heart of the Portuguese defence alongside Pepe.
DF Raphael Guerreiro, 7 -- Coming off a nightmare display against Morocco, Guerreiro justified Santos's decision to persist with him with a much-improved showing, although he is clearly more at home going forward than when having to defend.
MF William Carvalho, 7 -- Always in the midst of the action, William was his usual calming influence and began the match dictating play, so much so that Carlos Queiroz cleverly instructed an Iranian opponent to shadow his every movement, and he struggled to have the same impact thereafter. Kept at it and ended the game strongly.
MF Adrien Silva, 8 -- A somewhat controversial inclusion in the Portugal squad, Adrien Silva showed that he has attributes no other Selecao midfielder has. Snapping away at his Iranian counterparts all match long, Adrien Silva was always in the right place, winning back possession countless times and finding his teammates with simple accurate passes, including a lovely one-two for the Quaresma goal.
MF Joao Mario, 6 -- Mario was a key member of Portugal's Euro 2016-winning team, but two poor seasons seem to have taken their toll on his confidence. After a bright start, including an audacious flick with his heel to set up a Ronaldo chance, Mario saw less and less of the ball, not making the best use of it when it arrived at his feet.
MF Ricardo Quaresma, 8 -- Flitted in and out of the game, showing some lovely touches without being involved as much as Santos would have wanted until the 45th minute, when he exchanged passes with Adrien Silva, drove toward the box and struck a trademark outside-of-the-boot shot into the top corner for a simply majestic goal. Threatened to lose his notoriously short temper in the second half and was subbed off.
FW Andre Silva, 7 -- Andre Silva worked his socks off as usual, getting through a tremendous amount of graft, often dropping to the flanks to try to hold up the ball and wait for reinforcements, but never got the chance to be a goal threat.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 -- It was a disappointing night for the Portugal captain, who missed a penalty and was generally controlled well by the aggressive and well-marshalled Iranian defence.
MF Bernardo Silva, 6 -- Brought on for Quaresma with 20 minutes remaining, the Manchester City man proved useful in keeping possession and providing some fresh impetus on the right of Portugal's midfield.
FW Joao Moutinho, N/R -- Five minutes plus stoppage time on the pitch. Rarely touched the ball in a mad-cap phase of the match.
FW Goncalo Guedes, N/R -- Brought on to eat up some precious seconds with Portugal desperate to hold on.
Tom Kundert covers Portuguese football for ESPN FC. Twitter: @PortuGoal1.