Morocco and Iran will meet for the first time in World Cup history as they open their account in Group B on Friday at the Saint-Petersburg Stadium.
2018 FIFA World Cup
15 June 2018
Kick-off: 23:00 HKT
Venue: Saint-Petersburg Stadium
Referee: C. Cakir
Assistants: B. Duran, T. Ongun
Fourth official: S. Karasev
Fifth official: A. Averianov
Players to watch
Iran striker Alireza Jahanbakhsh could be a player in the thick of the action further forward as he finished as last season as the Eredivisie’s top scorer with 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar. With an opportunity to show his qualities on the biggest stage in world football, the emerging 24-year-old star is one to watch out for on Friday.
Morocco playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who plays for Ajax, has a real creative spark towards the final third as he created an incredible 21 assists last season for the Dutch giants. Possessing a wide range of passing as well as the ability to find space in tight situations, the 25-year-old could be a game-changer for the Atlas Lions.
Team form and manager quotes
After a 20-year absence from the World Cup, Friday’s game against the Iranians marks Morocco’s return to the global showpiece. The Atlas Lions are the only team to come through qualifying without conceding and will no doubt be a tough nut to crack in defence.
As such, head coach Herve Renard is confident his system will be effective. He told reporters: “The national team will continue to prepare with a crescendo to be ready on June 15. The important thing is to keep our way of working. It’s about making defensive adjustments.”
Meanwhile, Iran will make a fifth appearance in the finals, though they have never come through the group stages. With Spain and Portugal both in the group, a good result could be key for Carlos Queiroz’s side.
During qualifying they were unbeaten in 10 qualifiers and did not concede a goal in the first nine games. The strongest backline in Asia was only breached by Syria after Iran’s place was secured in Russia.
As such, Queiroz views the contest against the Moroccans as a must-win game. He said: “We know that the match is a must win for both sides but we are here for a mission and will compete to win the game and collect the three points.
“Our players are full of enthusiasm and energy for the match. In football, a win is like medicine and we know that if we can win our opening match, we will be more motivated and more energetic for our next matches. So we will attack bravely tomorrow in order to score.”
The North Africans are hoping that Nabil Dirar passes a fitness test as he missed his team’s last two friendlies against Slovakia and Estonia with a calf concern.
Iran are set to be without the suspended Saeid Ezatolahi, while Mehdi Taremi and Askhan Dejagah are both doubtful with knocks.