Joe Allen offered Cymru manager Rob Page a welcome boost on Wednesday as he resumed training with the squad after sitting out the 1-1 draw against the United States on Monday.
A hamstring injury has kept Allen on the sidelines since September, but Page will be keen to use the influential midfielder sooner rather than later as Cymru look to build on their undefeated start to Group B against Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Friday (25 November). Allen was clearly missed in the opening half of the draw against the United States on Monday as Christian Pulisic exploited the space available to him, but Cymru regrouped and responded with a strong second half that will set the standard for what Page will expect from his players in this next crucial match.
“Lessons have been learned,” said Page following the draw against the United States. “It was important we didn’t lose the game. We have strength in depth. I can look over my shoulder to the bench and we’ve got players who can come on and have a real impact on games. Before we play Iran the medical team will have work to do. We have players not playing week-in, week-out, and they are cramping up. We’ve got some tired bodies in there so we’ve got to get a team ready to go again on Friday.”
Captain Gareth Bale was the hero once again for Cymru as his penalty earned the side what could prove to be a crucial point. Making his 109th international appearance, Bale moved level with Chris Gunter as the all-time appearance holder for the men’s national team, while his 41st goal extended his lead as the all-time leading goalscorer. However, the introduction of Kieffer Moore at half-time was the catalyst in changing what had been a difficult opening half, and Page will have some tough decisions to make in his team selection.
Despite conceding six goals against England in the opening match, Hossein Hosseini goalkeeper is set to continue in goal for Iran in place of Alizera Beyranvand who left the field early through concussion. Mehdi Taremi scored both goals in the 6-2 reverse and is expected to play a key role. Manager Carlos Queiroz opted to use a back five in Monday’s opening game but it did little to stifle England’s attack, and the defeat means his side will need to show more attacking initiative on Friday, which may lead to a more positive tactical shape.
However, off field matters continue to distract the Iranian national team as violent protests and demonstrations against the current regime back home continue.
“To those who come to disturb the team with the issues that are not only about the football opinions, they’re not welcome because our boys, they’re just simple football boys,” explained Queiroz following the opening match. “Let the kids play the game. Because this is what they’re looking for. They wanted to represent the country, to represent the people, as any other national team that are here. And all the national teams, there are issues at home.
“You don’t know what the kids have been experiencing behind the scenes just because they want to play football. Of course, we have our opinions and we will express them in the right time. But I love the game and don’t want the players to do something that isn’t loyal to the game that is about the entertainment, joy and pride. They only have one dream, to play for the country, to play for the people and I am very proud of the way they stand up and keep fighting.”
Iran are competing at their sixth World Cup finals but have never made it through the group stages of the competition. There has only been one previous meeting between Cymru and Iran as the two nations met in an international friendly in Tehran back in April 1978 as Iran prepared for their first appearance at the World Cup that summer. Phil Dwyer scored the only goal as Mike Smith’s team claimed a 1-0 victory in front of 50,000 fans.