Spain laboured to their first win of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday, defeating Iran 1-0 to move joint-top of Group B thanks to a Diego Costa winner.
Carlos Queiroz's Iran battled hard and held the 2010 world champions to a one-goal scoreline, but they fell short in attack and must now beat Portugal on Monday to have a hope of making the knockout stages.
Portugal battled their way to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Morocco earlier on Wednesday, when Herve Renard's men had their World Cup departure confirmed despite dominating for most of the match.
A Cristiano Ronaldo header was all that separated the two as Portugal's captain boosted his lead as top scorer with his fourth strike of the tournament.
The Atlas Lions weren't the only ones to exit the running, either, as Saudi Arabia became the second team eliminated from advancing when Luis Suarez's sole strike gave Uruguay their second win and a spot in the round of 16.
We recount the highlights from Wednesday's three group matchups, including a breakdown of the latest World Cup standings.
Portugal 1-0 Morocco
Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia
Iran 0-1 Spain
Group Standings (Goal Difference)
1. Russia (a): 6 (+7)
2. Uruguay (a): 6 (+2)
3. Egypt (e): 0 (-3)
4. Saudi Arabia (e): 0 (-6)
1. Spain: 4 (+1)
2. Portugal: 4 (+1)
3. Iran: 3 (0)
4. Morocco (e): 0 (-2)
(a) denotes a team that's qualified for the next round. (e) denotes a team that's been eliminated from the tournament.
Spain Scrape Iran Victory; Uruguay Step over Saudi Arabia into Last 16
Wednesday's 1-0 win over Iran won't go down in Spain's football annals, but it will likely be remembered as one of their toughest tests of the 2018 World Cup, no matter how far they make it in the competition.
Costa's 53rd-minute decider was scrappy—it looked like an own goal at first glance—and Iran even had an equaliser disallowed for offside, but Goal's Kris Voakes discussed why Queiroz's men could hold their heads high:
Iran frequently threw all their men behind the ball in a bid to close Spain's space enough to muzzle the entirely, a tactic that worked at least until half-time as the two sides went in scoreless at the break.
One thing that might worry Spain coach Fernando Hierro, who wasn't short of aggressiveness when needed during his playing days, is a lack of that mental strength, per Spanish football writer Simon Harrison:
Portugal were a lot more modest in their 1-0 beating of Morocco, who were the better team for great periods of their meeting at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The Atlas Lions had a little less than 55 per cent of possession and 15 shots to Portugal's 10, per WhoScored.com. However, the only one that mattered was Ronaldo's header from a Joao Moutinho cross in after four minutes, and writer Andrew Gaffney took note of the harsh lines in tournament football:
Ronaldo's 85th goal for his country also made him the highest European international scorer of all time, and he's second only to Ali Daei overall, with the Iranian boasting a record of 109 goals in 149 international appearances.
A fourth goal of the competition again established daylight between Ronaldo and the rest of the World Cup scorers, and Goal's Peter Staunton gave some insight as to what's driving the Real Madrid star in Russia:
The clash in Moscow wasn't a barnburner in terms of goals, and neither was Uruguay's narrow 1-0 win over the Saudis.
Mohammed Al Owais failed to properly deal with a corner in the 23rd minute and gave Suarez an open sight at goal, with the Uruguay striker tucking his chance away on a special day, per Match of the Day's Gary Lineker:
Wednesday was a special occasion for the Barcelona hitman off the pitch as well as on it, too, after Suarez uncovered some exciting personal news, via Fox Soccer (United States only):
All attention now turns to Uruguay's Group A decider against pool leaders Russia at the Cosmos Arena in Samara on Monday, a fixture that always looked likely to dictate who of these two teams would finish first.
Russia can rest easy with a far superior goal difference and having generally looked far more impressive out of the two thus far at the World Cup, although they'll still need to secure a result to ensure first place in Group A remains theirs.