An injury time own goal from Aziz Bouhaddouz condemned Morocco to a 1-0 defeat as Iran picked up their first World Cup win in 20 years.
With Spain and Portugal looming, both sides knew this was a must-win game if they stood any chance of getting out of the group stages.
However, Morocco lacked a cutting edge as the underdogs Iran took advantage to get their first victory at the tournament since a win over USA in France 1998.
Iran have had a tumultuous pre-tournament with sponsors Nike pulling out of a deal to provide boots for the team but Carlos Queiroz’s side impressed during qualifying. Morocco were also a strong side during qualifying and with players such as Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech and Juventus’ Medhi Benatia, a win in the opening game was expected.
Neutral supporters across the globe were intrigued by Morocco’s attacking talent during the tournament and they were straight into the action after four minutes. Watford’s Nordin Amrabaat, who left the field in the second half with a possible concussion, did brilliantly to skip away from Ehsan Haji Safi on the right wing before slipping in a nice cross to the near post but the diving header from Younes Belhanda was well off target.
Just after, Herve Renard’s side were unlucky not to be in front after a goalmouth scramble resulted in a very good save from Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. Roman Saiss, now a Premier League player with Wolves, did brilliantly to head down for a Belhanda shot and when the ball was ricocheted into the path of Benatia, it looked like a certain goal. The Iran shot-stopper had other ideas though with a reflex save that kept it goalless.
It wasn’t all Morocco though as their Asian opponents looked threatening on the back but lacked the quality in the final third to take advantage. Renard’s team were fortunate not to be behind at the break, but Sardar Azmoun’s shot was well saved by Munir as was the bouncing rebound effort from Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Morocco were dominant in terms of possession as they had 68% of the ball but failed to turn it into anything worthwhile. With just ten minutes to go, the next real chance of note came but Ziyech’s incredible long-range half-volley was tipped around the post by Beiranvand. It was a top class piece of goalkeeping from a man that would have impressed many watching, but it was about to get even better for Iran.
With the time ticking away and a draw that didn’t suit either side on the cards, a twist of fate spun the wheel in Iran’s favour. Haji Safi swung in a free-kick from the left wing that looked easy to defend, but unfortunately for Morocco, substitute striker Bouhaddouz leapt at the ball with a diving header. Rather than head the ball away from danger, the forward directed the ball into his own net from a near post position and all of a sudden, history was being made for Iran.
Written by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)