Iran clinched a FIFA Futsal World Cup semi-final place for the first time since 1992 as Ahmed Esmailpour struck deep into extra time to see off Paraguay 4-3 in an incredible climax during Bucaramanga’s final game of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016.
With plenty of space to operate in, both sides moved the ball around fluidly in the opening minutes, but the final pass was lacking as neither was able to craft solid openings. While it was Iran who were applying most of the pressure early on, it was Paraguay who took the lead, with Francisco Martinez turning in Juan Salas’ drive across goal.
This spurred the South Americans into life, threatening a second as space opened up at the back as Iran pushed for a quick equaliser. But it was in fact a well-tried route to goal that brought the leveller, as an Esmaeilpour thunderbolt proved that persistence pays off.
With half-time almost upon them, Paraguay nipped ahead again, this time it was Juan Salas himself bundling in at the back post. And if there was any similarity between Paraguay’s goals, that was entirely superseded as Iran drew level again, this time it was Mahdi Javid unleashing a hammer blow.
Rene Villalba would have trumped them all if his volley from inside his own half hadn’t struck the frame of the goal, while Mohammed Keshavarzand and Farhad Tavakoli did likewise, albeit from a great deal closer as the game opened up.
The game swung Iran’s way on the tug of a shirt, though, as Gabriel Ayala saw red for pulling down Tavakoli, and Javid made it 3-2 with Iran a man to the good. But with time ticking down, Villalba, sporting the flying keeper’s shirt, fired a low free-kick to take it to extra time.
It looked all set for both sides to face penalties for the second time in successive games, but Esmaeilpour was on hand to hammer home from close range with 23 seconds to go. Even then, Villalba still had time to hit the post, but now Iran will face one of Spain or Russia in the semi-finals.