Uruguay downed Iran 2-1 after extra-time on Thursday in Calabar thanks to a pair of late goals from Spain-based starlet Sebastian Gallegos. The round-of-16 clash from the southern coastal city never resembled a footballing spectacle, with few chances and even fewer clear chances. In the end, and suitably, the game was decided by the best player on the pitch.
It was all Uruguay in the early going, with the talented South Americans prancing into their stride. Gonzalo Barreto was looking lively and carved out an opening after eight minutes, weaving his way into the Iranian penalty area. Iman Sadeghi had no trouble with the tame near-post shot though, and pushed it away for a corner-kick.
The Danubio man had an even better chance on the quarter-hour when he broke into the right side of the area, only to blast his effort wildly over the bar. Four minutes later, Atletico Madrid darling Gallegos somehow conspired to knuckle his 18-yarder well wide of the goal when he really should have tested the keeper.
The Iranians, with captain Payam Sadeghian restored after sitting out their win over the Dutch, were creating precious little in attack. Morteza Pouraliganjis hopeful dig from long range after 25 minutes hardly had Uruguay net-minder Salvador Ichazo worried. Normal service was resumed in short order with the South Americans applying all the pressure up the other end. However, they couldn't turn their attacking dominance into goals and the half ended scoreless.
The Iranians looked a little livelier as the second half got underway, with their foraging captain Sadeghian leading the charge forward. The Zob-Ahan striker had a great chance to open the scoring after bursting into the box in the 57th minute, but he pulled his shot wide of the post. The Asian champions then enjoyed a short spell in which they put on all the pressure in their third game of these finals in Calabar.
Neither side were able to tip the balance as the 90th minute came and went, and the game went to extra-time. Both Iran and Uruguay had chances to score in the first period, but - as in the preceding minutes - neither could find their final touch. Iran coach Ali Doustimehr brought on lively midfielder Afshin Esmaeil mid-way through, hoping the new man could add the missing spark.
The move had the opposite effect, destabilising the Iranian side and shortly after the injection Uruguay were into the lead with an ugly goal to suit the nature of the contest. Gallegos, with seemingly nowhere to go in the penalty area, turned and fired a low shot that took an almighty deflection and slipped underneath the despairing Sadeghi and bobbled into the net in the 104th minute. It was the first goal that the Iranians conceded at these finals. It wasn't the last, however, as Gallegos added a second in the 117th minute when he lobbed the goalkeeper brilliantly.
Amazingly, Iran pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 with just seconds to go, Esmaeil hitting from distance to cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately for the Asians, it was the end of the scoring. Uruguay now move on to meet Spain - who made mincemeat of Burkina Faso - in their quarter-final, while Iran head for home at the first knockout hurdle.