World Cup 2018: Morocco vs Iran; Everything you need to know about Match 3
The first match from Group B will see the minnows - Morocco and Iran - take on each other in the second kick-off of the day at Saint Petersberg. There are no clear favorites as of now, and it will be a game that is decided by who wants it more badly.
Morocco conceded just no goals in the final round of qualifying, while Iran are infamous around Asian circles for their attacking prowess. Both teams would like to win the match, but a draw seems the most likely result, and if they can hold one of the bigger dogs in the next match, the whole group will be thrown wide open.
Here's everything you need to know about the game, which is scheduled to kick-off at 20:30 IST.
FIFA ranking: 42
Coach: Herve Renard
Captain: Mehdi Benatia
Morocco qualified for their first WC in 20 years, and they are already considered a dark horses for the tournament. Their biggest strength is in defense, as they play a very organized 4-2-3-1 with players who are strong in the air as well.
The position of goalkeeper is still not sorted out - Bounou is the No.1 keeper, but Munir is the preferred choice of the coach and is most likely to start. Juventus' Benatia is the leader of the back line, along with Romain Saiss, who was part of the Wolves team that won promotion to the PL.
The full-back roles are taken up by Real Madrid's Hakimi, and Mendyl - who are both 19 and 20 respectively. This is not a cause for concern, but hope, as it fits Morocco's possession style football to a T. The fullbacks, are constantly fighting for the ball - similar to what Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson do at Liverpool.
Hakim Ziyech is the heart of the attack and their creative force. He could have opted to play for the Netherlands, but decided that he would rather play for a team that qualified for the World Cup, and the Ajax play-maker is sure to make heads turn.
Ziyech usually operates from the left, but like Golovin, you will see him everywhere.
At defensive midfield, there is Boussoufa - a 33-year-old veteran who was shifted from an attacker to a more central role to help out the team by the coach. Partnering him will be El-Ahmadi, nicknamed "the gladiator" for his commanding presence.
In strike is Boutaib, whose story is as close to Jamie Vardy in terms of fairy-tale magic. He has worked at supermarkets, he was going to be a mathematician, and now he will play up front for the Atlas Lions.
FIFA ranking: 36
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Captain: Masoud Shojaei
This is Iran's second consecutive appearance in the WC, and after a decent showing in Brazil, they would have loved to go further in this edition. Unlucky for them, they have been thrown into a very hard drop, and it will take a lot of things to go right for them to qualify.
Alireza Beiranvand is their No.1 keeper and is also Iran's most expensive keeper. He can be anywhere between horrible to a wall depending upon the day, and has a long throw that will make defenses afraid. He has also expressed a desire to play for Liverpool, and most certainly won't have a 75 million euros release clause.
Pouraliganji has played with Xavi in central midfield during his time in Saudi Arabia, but he is more often used as a centre back for the national side. Partnering him will be either Cheshmi or Montazeri - the former is 24-year-old with strong aerial ability while the latter is a veteran of over 40 caps.
Mohammadi and Rezaeian are the full-backs and have an uncanny tendency to go forward during attacks. Queiroz likes to employ a three man-midfield of Ezatolahi, captain Shojaei and Hajsafi - but Ezatolahi is banned for the first game and cannot play.
We might see Ebrahimi take his place, who delivers pin-point crosses and plays box-to-box. The attack will see Taremi and Jahanbaksh, who have had spectacular seasons for their respective clubs and will definitely start when fit. Jahanbaksch was also a part of Iran's games in the last WC and is very integral to the team.
Starting in central striker position is Azmoun, the Iranian Messi. He is a true poacher and is always in the right place at the right time. He has also been linked with several transfers to the Top European teams, and this is his platform to show what he is capable of.
Bookies odds (crownbet):
Prediction: After watching Saudi Arabia, my faith in Asian teams has taken a beating and despite Iran's supposedly great attack, I do not want to be disappointed again. A 0-0 draw seems the right way to go, but I'll go with 1-0 in favour of Morocco.