KAZAN • Spain coach Fernando Hierro revealed that he was happy with the narrow 1-0 defeat of Iran because little separates the 32 teams at this World Cup.
A lucky Diego Costa goal in Kazan on Wednesday gave the 2010 champions their first win of this campaign. The striker's shot on 54 minutes came off defender Ramin Rezaeian to beat goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Iran came close to causing a major upset but had an effort by Saeid Ezatolahi disallowed for a narrow offside. The Asian side also saw a late header from Mehdi Taremi go just over David de Gea's crossbar after Vahid Amiri had nutmegged Barcelona star Gerard Pique.
"Nobody is winning easily at the World Cup, we've had it as hard as we thought," Hierro told Spanish television channel Telecinco on a day when Portugal and Uruguay also eked out 1-0 wins over Morocco and Saudi Arabia respectively.
"Equality is at its maximum in this World Cup. Iran are a great team, with clear ideas."
After failing to create clear-cut opportunities in the first half, Hierro made the most out of the intermission to rally his side.
Costa was so frustrated with Iran's defensive tactics in the first half that he appeared to approach Beiranvand and step on his toes, leaving the 'keeper in visible pain. It went unpunished by Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha, who had awarded France a historic first VAR-assisted penalty in their 2-1 win over Australia.
SMALL GAP IN STANDARDS
Nobody is winning easily at the World Cup, we've had it as hard as we thought. Equality is at its maximum in this World Cup. Iran are a great team, with clear ideas.
FERNANDO HIERRO, Spain coach, who considers teams in Russia to be quite evenly matched.
"The break helped us, we made corrections, took a look at ourselves and encouraged the boys," Hierro added. "It was important to play a more expansive game, to move around more.
"The break was important psychologically. It was important to believe in ourselves, no matter how difficult the match was."
Spain are level on four points with Portugal and have an identical goal difference and head-to-head record with the European champions.
They need to beat Morocco in their final group game on Monday and hope Portugal fail to overcome Iran by as many goals in order to secure top spot.
Spain midfielder Isco said his side needed to get used to playing teams happy to construct a defensive wall and warned that Morocco "will also prove difficult".
With three points from their win over Morocco, Iran still have a chance of qualifying if they can get a good result against Portugal.
"Our players can go home and sit with their family and friends and be proud of themselves," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz. "People gave us no chance, but we still have chances to qualify for the second round. We'll fight for our dreams."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE