In the inaugural match of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Russia were comfortable winners over Saudi Arabia, scoring 5 goals without reply, recording the second biggest win by a host nation in their opening match in World Cup history. The second match will feature the fit-again Mohamed Salah's Egypt and South American giants Uruguay. Afterwards, in Saint Petersburg, Morocco will face Iran in the opening match for the two teams.
Morocco come into the tournament as a very strong defensive unit, keeping 6 clean sheets in the third round of CAF qualifiers, where they remained undefeated. Despite having a poor record at previous World Cups, the African side will be looking to perform at their highest level this year. Iran too were undefeated in the third round of qualification, with 6 wins and 4 draws, with Sardar Azmoun doing the bulk of the scoring. Let's take a look at 5 players who might decide the outcome of this match:
#5 Sardar Azmoun
The Rubin Kazan centre-forward will be eager to make an impact on the grandest stage of all by scoring crucial goals for his side. Sardar has represented Iran at all youth levels and scored 23 goals in less than 40 appearances for the senior team.
He possesses creativity, good aerial ability and is known for his pace. The 23-year old will have to carry the burden of scoring for his team alongside fellow attacker Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
#4 Younes Belhanda
The 28-year old attacking midfielder has played in Germany, France, Turkey and Ukraine and racked up over 300 appearances at club level, scoring 48 goals. Despite playing for France at youth level, he has 47 caps for Morocco, having netted 5 times.
Belhanda is an influential presence in midfield and is always involved in the build-up play for his side. He mostly plays right behind the striker, either El Kaabi or Boutaib.
#3 Alireza Jahanbakhsh
The Eredivisie top scorer will play on the right side of attacking midfield, behind Sardar Azmoun. The AZ Alkmaar hotshot is a technically gifted player and provides a lot of assists as well, apart from scoring with both feet.
The 24-year old is fast and direct and can single-handedly swing the game in Iran's favour. He has scored 37 goals in 111 appearances for AZ and 4 goals for his national side. The fact that he can play anywhere across the frontline is a testament to his ability and versatility.
#2 Hakim Ziyech
Hakim Ziyech is another attacking midfielder on this list. He provided the most number of assists in the Eredivisie last season with 15 assists and also scored 9 goals for Ajax. He is a set-piece specialist and hence is in-charge of all set-pieces for his national side.
The 25-year old has scored 9 goals in 18 games for Morocco and has been in scintillating form for his club side Ajax. He possesses exquisite technique and vision along with intelligent movement on and off the ball.
#1 Medhi Benatia
The Moroccan skipper tops the list, entrusted with the key role of rallying his troops and organizing his defence against an unpredictable Iranian side. His experience will come in handy for a relatively young Morocco side, having played at Udinese, Roma, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Morocco were undefeated in World Cup qualification, keeping a clean sheet in all 6 of their matches. Benatia featured in 5 of those matches and also scored a goal, which speaks volumes about his role in the Moroccan side.