Morocco vs Iran Preview: Who will seize the impetus in Group B?

Morocco vs Iran Preview: Who will seize the impetus in Group B?

The two teams face each other at 4pm in the Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg, the third game in the 2018 World Cup.

matthew-wojciow
Matthew Wojciow

Morocco take on Iran for the first time ever at a World Cup, in the second of the matches on matchday 1 of Group B. 

Morocco come into this game after winning both their warm up matches against Estonia and Slovakia respectively.

Iran had a mixed bag of results in their tournament warm-up games, as they beat Lithuania, 1-0 but they lost 2-1 to Turkey.

A rock solid backline will be key

Morocco boast the best defence of all the qualifying sides for the World Cup. They did not concede a single goal throughout the African qualifiers. A large part of this was down to Juventus and national team captain Medhi Benatia being the commander-in-chief at the back. His experience will be key to help young Real Madrid full-back Achraf Hakimi to withstand the two big players in this group, Portugal and Spain.

Morocco also have immense talent in the middle of the park with a number of players in some of Europe's top leagues. They have experienced heads in Nordin Amrabat and Mbark Boussoufa. There is also a great screen in front of the defence in former Aston Villa midfielder Karim El Ahmadi, who has enjoyed two great seasons since returning to Feyenoord in 2016. The one who will provide the flair in the side is Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who has been dazzling the Eredivisie for many years now. He was the top assist maker in the Eredivisie last season with 21 assists,

The surprise package for Morocco will be there forward Ayoub El Kaabi who has an incredible strike rate for his country with 11 goals in 10 matches. El Kaabi has been tipped by many pundits to be this summer's break out star. 

Morocco have the taunting task of facing current European Champions Portugal and former World Champions Spain in their group so maximum points against Iran could leave them in good standing going into those games. 

Will Alireza Jahanbakhsh  carry Iran through?

Iran will hoping to call upon there their star Alireza Jahanbakhsh, to try and pull off the impossible by qualifying for knockout stages of the World Cup.

Jahanbakhsh has had an incredible season with his club side AZ Alkmaar, he scored 21 times and assisted 12 times. He has been tipped for a big move to the Premier League and an impressive World Cup could make the big teams across Europe stand up and take notice.

There is also the Sardar Azmoun who plays out in Russia for Rubin Kazan who could be Iran's secret weapon. Azmoun is only 23 years old so has time to make his mark at another tournament but this could be his coming off age tournament. 

There is also one experienced head in there to get them in the right frame of mind. This is former Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah who is the most senior member of the squad and will be key in the harder matches against Portugal and Spain.

Stats

The only other meeting between the sides ended in a draw.

Iran have qualified for back to back tournaments for the first time. They have only won one game at a World Cup Finals which was way back in 1998.

This will be Morocco's fifth tournament and the first time since 1998. They have never gone further than the last 16. 

Team News

Iran will be without the suspended Saeid Ezatolahi. They are also monitoring the fitness of Dejagah and Mehdi Taremi.

Nabil Dirar is a doubt for the game as he missed the last two friendlies before the tournament.

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