By Neil Maidment
SALVADOR, Brazil, June 23 (Reuters) - With a solitary 1998 World Cup win to their name, another for Iran against Bosnia on Wednesday would alone be cause for big celebration, but with an improbable last 16 spot also up for grabs the party could really be one to remember.
Iran arrive in Salvador with just one point but a host of new fans thanks to a gutsy 0-0 draw with Group F rivals Nigeria and an excellent display against twice champions Argentina, where a late Lionel Messi goal denied them a famous stalemate.
They face already eliminated Bosnia at the Fonte Nova arena knowing a win, coupled with defeat for Nigeria against qualified Argentina, could see them go through if goal difference goes their way.
Second-placed Nigeria, on four points, have a plus one goal difference with Iran on one point, on minus one.
A 1-0 win for Iran and 1-0 defeat for Nigeria would leave them level on both points and goal difference and make things very interesting. In that rare scenario, the rules state the teams must be separated by goals scored in all matches, then points between them and goals between them.
Given Iran and Nigeria would have both scored one goal each in the group, and they drew 0-0 against each other, that would not separate them so there would have to be a drawing of lots.
Much of Iran's good work in Brazil has been built on a extremely disciplined defensive structure but against the might of Argentina they showed plenty of will to break fast and attack dangerously, going close several times to claiming a shock win.
"We proved that we defend always with our eyes pointed to the Argentine goal," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz told media.
Such attacking endeavour has not been so forthcoming for Bosnia, whose defensive focus in their first World Cup proved too cautious and ultimately sealed their exit following 2-1 and 1-0 defeats to Argentina and Nigeria.
Bosnian pundits have criticised coach Safet Susic for his defensive formation and the squad's apparent poor fitness levels, and have turned on the performances of key striker Edin Dzeko and captain Emir Spahic in defence.
To lighten the mood Susic could finally ditch his unsuccessful 4-5-1 setup against Iran in favour of the attack-minded 4-4-2 which brought them 30 goals in qualifying.
That would mean a popular recall for striker Vedad Ibisevic alongside Dzeko, restoring a handy partnership that had raised hopes of exciting times in Brazil. Other changes may come in midfield if Susic shakes-up the side before heading home.
"It will be very tough because Iran will be extremely motivated as they have everything to play for while we are out of the tournament," Ibisevic told reporters.
"We have played football long enough to know that we have to pick ourselves up and focus on the game."
Queiroz will hope his side's mean defence will repel any more attacking Bosnian line-up and will also take heart from the fact Iran, playing in their fourth World Cup, have never lost to Bosnia, winning four and drawing one of their five encounters.
Bidding to add another victory to their famous 2-1 win over the United States in 1998, he is unlikely to tinker much with a side that has performed so well so far in Brazil. (Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic, Editing by Nigel Hunt)
- Sports & Recreation