Morocco vs Iran – Friday, June 15, 16:00BST/17:00CEST/18:00 MSK – Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, Russia
Group B will kickoff with the two outsiders facing each other on the Krestovsky Island in Saint Petersburg. Both Morocco and Iran are only given outsider chances in what is a difficult group that also includes 2010 world champions Spain and current European champion Portugal.
At the same time, Morocco have a squad that could perhaps upset the apple cart. A deep side with top players on every position Les Lions de l’Atlas might even have enough strength to finish ahead of one of the two European giants.
The match against Iran, however, will be crucial for Morocco’s hopes to advance to the round of 16. With Iran Morocco face a side that have stood out for their defensive abilities – Team Melli conceded just two goals at the final stage of AFC World Cup qualifying.
Morocco, however, should have the firepower to break down Team Melli. The likes of Amine Harit (Schalke), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) and Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray) are fantastic in one-on-one situation, and each one of them can break down deep-sitting defensive lines.
With this in mind, Morocco are clear-cut favourites to take all three points from the first match in Group B, which could set up Les Lions de l’Atlas nicely for the remainder of the group stage.
Morocco vs Iran – Players to look out for:
Amine Harit #18 – Morocco (Schalke)
Amine Harit is one of the young and upcoming talents to watch at this tournament. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder plays his club football for Schalke in the German Bundesliga where he managed three goals and seven assists in 31 Bundesliga games this season. Harit was a significant factor in Schalke finishing second in Germany behind Bayern München. Born and raised in France Harit played his national team football for the country of his birth and only switched allegiances to Morocco in October 2017 when he was capped in the World Cup qualifier against Gabon.
Sardar Azmoun #20 – Egypt (Rubin Kazan)
Sardar Azmoun will feel right at home at this World Cup. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder moved to Russia five years ago joining Rubin Kazan in the January 2013 from Sepahan’s youth squad. Working with legendary head coach Kurban Berdyev at both Rubin and FC Rostov Azmoun has scored 29 goals and 14 assists in 115 Russian Football Premier League games. A flexible attacking midfielder Azmoun has often been linked with a move to a major European side and the World Cup – he has already scored 23 goals in 32 games for Iran – could be the impetus that will see the native of Gonbad move to Western Europe.
Morocco vs Iran – Match Stats
- In 1986 Morocco were the first team from Africa to win a group. The team was later eliminated in the round of 16 by Germany.
- Iran had the best defence in the AFC. The side did not concede a goal for almost 1000 minutes and only were scored against in their last qualifier – a 2-2 draw against Syria.
- Morocco and Iran have never before faced each other in a competitive fixture.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Morocco vs Iran – 3-0
Morocco vs Iran – Lineups
Munir – Hakimi, Benatia, Saïss, Amrabat – El Ahmadi – Harit, Boussoufa, Belhanda, Ziyech – El Kaabi
Head Coach: Hervé Renard
Beiranvand – Mohammadi, Cheshmi, Pouraliganji, Rezeian – Shojaei, Hajsafi – Taremi, Azmoun, Jahanbaksh – Ghoddos
Head Coach: Carlos Queiros
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.