In the day the Muslim World celebrated Eid, the end of Ramadan, the third game of World Cup 2018, first one in Group B, featured an evocative clash between Morocco and Iran.
The Moroccans had been waiting for this moment since 20 years, as their last World Cup appearance had been in France 1998. Much had changed since then, both for the country itself, and for their National team – The Atlas Lions.
When Italian Gianni De Biasi was named head coach of the Albanian national team, he quickly realized that with the local talents he couldn’t improve much the quality of the team. But as he started to learn more about the Albanian history, he found out that many locals had left the country during the 20th Century mainly due to political issues and conflicts.
As many second or even third generation Albanians were born out of the country, De Biasi started to scout and contact players with double nationality, to ask them if they were willing to represent Albania. With a very positive response rate, he managed to qualify Albania for the first time for an international tournament – the European Cup 2016.
Morocco’s coach Hervé Renard applied exactly the same strategy to bring the Moroccans back to the World Cup. Out of his 23-man squad, only six players were actually born in Morocco. The remaining came from France (eight), the Netherlands (five), Spain (two), plus one from Canada and one from Belgium. This plan also worked, as the Atlas Lions qualified for World Cup 2018 – and supporters were happy to see some great talents representing their country.
Carlos Queiroz, the former Real Madrid coach now training the Iranian national team, had to face quite a different situation – with the vast majority of his players being born and raised in Iran, but none of them playing in one of the Top 5 European leagues.
Iran were the weakest team of their group on paper, still they managed to catch an unexpected win over their North African opponents. It was not one the most exciting of games, if truth be told. Morocco maintained the ball possession and created a few more chances, especially whit Hakim Ziyach – by far the most talented player seen on the pitch. The Ajax youngster challenged Iranian keeper Ali Beiranvand multiple times, but the goalie managed to keep the score to 0-0.
When people were about to leave Saint Peterburg’s Stadium and both teams seemed happy with one point, a side free kick by Iran was deflected into his own goal by Moroccan striker Aziz Bouhaddouz, giving the first victory in a World Cup to an Asian team since Japan beat Denmark in 2010.
The game ended 0-1, with the Moroccan players devastated on the pitch, and the Iranians celebrating as if they had won the World Cup itself.
June 15, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool B
SCORER: 95′ Bouhaddouz (o.g.)
|MOROCCO (3-4-3): El Kajoui, Hakimi, Benatia, Saiss, Boussoufa, Ziyech, El Ahmadi, Harit (82′ Da Costa), N. Amrabat (76′ S. Amrabat), El Kaabi (77′ Bouhaddouz), Belhanda (Bounou, Reda Tagnaouti, Ait Bennasser, Boutaib, Carcela, Dirar, En-Nesyri, Fajr, Mendyl) Coach: Renard|
|IRAN (3-4-3): Beiranvand, Pouraliganji, Cheshmi, Rezaeian, Shojaei (68′ Taremi), Hajsafi, Ebrahimi (79′ Montazeri), Ansarifard, Amiri, Azmoun, Jahanbakhsh (85′ Ghoddos) (Mazaheri, Abedzadeh, Dejagah, Ghoochannejdad, Hosseini, Khanzadeh, Mohammadi, Torabi) Coach: Queiroz|
REFEREE: Cakir (Turkey)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: El Ahmadi (M), Shojaei, Jahanbakhsh, Ansarifard (I)