Wales' hopes of reaching the last-16 at the World Cup are hanging by a thread after they fell to a 2-0 loss against Iran in their second Group B outing.
This article was originally published on 25 November 2022
Friday's loss at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan means Wales have just a point from their opening two encounters, having drawn 1-1 with the USA in their first fixture.
Wales, who are 16/1 to qualify from the group, subsequently sit bottom of the standings, behind the USA on goal difference, but they have played a game more, while Iran are second on three points and England lead the section after their emphatic 6-2 triumph against Team Melli.
The Dragons will be keeping a close eye on the other clash in Group B when England and the USA square off at 19:00 on Friday.
Keiffer Moore had Wales' best opportunity in the first half, but his close-range effort was saved by goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini.
The clash then appeared to be heading for a draw until Wayne Hennessey was sent off when he flew out of his box to meet the ball, missed and collided with Iran striker Mehdi Taremi.
Referee Mario Escobar initially gave a free-kick and a yellow card but, having viewed the incident back on the pitchside monitor, upgraded that call and pulled out a red.
Wales only had four minutes of regulation time to hang on but Iran, priced at 1/1 to qualify, appeared to be buoyed when the fourth official signalled nine minutes of additional time.
Team Melli broke the deadlock in the 98th minute when substitute Rouzbeh Cheshmi drilled home and, with Wales committing bodies forward in search of an equaliser, Iran slotted home a second via Ramin Rezaeian.
Wales have been heavily reliant on the incredibly talented Gareth Bale over the past decade, helping them to reach the semi-finals at Euro 2016 before playing a key role in securing a spot at a World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Former Arsenal and Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who now plays his domestic football in France with Nice, has also been an influential figure for his national side.
However, both have struggled to have an impact in Qatar. Bale did score a crucial equaliser in Wales' opener against the USA, firing home emphatically from the penalty spot but he's been unable to influence proceedings in open play.
Ramsey has almost been anonymous for Rob Page's side and the youngsters within the squad appear to be lacking leadership and guidance on the big stage.
The Dragons simply couldn't get either involved as they fell to a 2-0 loss against Iran on Friday as they found it difficult to create openings.
Group leaders England - available at 1/14 to top the section - and third-placed USA - who are 8/11 to qualify - meet Al Bayt Stadium on Friday night and Wales, who face the Three Lions in their final fixture, will be hoping their neighbours can earn a win.
Victory for Gareth Southgate's side would guarantee their place in the last-16, although they wouldn't be certain to finish top.
A loss for the USA would keep them just a point ahead of facing Iran on 29th November all four teams would still be in the running to advance to the next stage.
Wales, of course, would need to beat England in that scenario, but Southgate may be tempted into changes with progression already in the bag.
If England do have six points in the bag when they face Wales at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on 29th November, it could prove to be an exciting, high-scoring game.
Page's men will need to show courage to fight for the win and, as is often the case in closing group stage matches at a World Cup, it may be an end-to-end encounter.