By Mark Gleeson
SALVADOR, Brazil, June 25 (Reuters) - Iran had a chance to progress to the knockout stage of the World Cup on Wednesday but after an initial burst of aggressive energy reverted back to type and saw the opportunity pass them by in a 3-1 defeat by Bosnia.
The Asian country, with just one previous World Cup finals victory to their name, needed to beat Bosnia and hope Nigeria lost at the same time to Argentina to take the runners-up berth in Group F and reach the second phase.
A tantalising opportunity was expected to produce an attacking approach from an Iranian side who had spent their two previous matches impressing with their tactical discipline and defensive ability.
But after beginning the game with some zeal, they were quickly back to their defensive lines as already-eliminated Bosnia began to show their superiority.
It was not long before the physical effects of three games in 10 days began to show on a side well short of regular top-class international experience.
Bosnia were more efficient going forward, quickly had control of the midfield and were rarely troubled in defence.
And when Iran eventually opened up a little and tried to venture forward, Bosnia punished them with devastating effect. Edin Dzeko was given far too much time on the ball and squeezed home a shot in the 23rd minute to give his side the lead.
A tactical switch saw Iran coach Carlos Queiroz bring on winger Khosro Heydari to try and widen play but the ploy had little effect as the side looked increasingly tired after halftime.
Iran at least did not end the tournament as the only team not to score a goal when Reza Ghoochannejad pulled the score back to 2-1 in the 82nd minute.
But as the crowd, dominated by Iranian supporters, suddenly sprung to life in the hope of a dramatic last charge, so Bosnia killed off their hopes once and for all as flying fullback Avdija Vrsajevic stormed down the other end to restore their two-goal advantage.
"We had squeezed everything out of our players against Argentina," said Queiroz. "Like squeezing an orange dry. They had little more left to give."
Iran, who drew 0-0 with Nigeria in their opening game, held Argentina at bay in their previous match only for the magic of Lionel Messi to conjure up a stoppage-time winner. (Editing by Justin Palmer; firstname.lastname@example.org; +55 21985471451; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com; To sign up for our Global Sports Forum chatroom, click on https://forms.thomsonreuters.com/global_sports_forum)