The second match of the three World Cup games on Friday is the opening fixture in Group B as Morocco take on Iran in St Petersburg with both sides desperate to pick up a much needed victory.
With Spain and Portugal to come for the pair of these teams this is definitely a match neither can afford to lose but at the same time it might well be one that if they don’t win their run in the tournament will be short lived.
The African nation go into the tournament rated as dark horses to have a little run in the event. Much of that has been based on their qualifying campaign which saw them come through their final stage without conceding a goal in their six matches. Sometimes you look at records like that and think they are false but the group had a strong Ivory Coast and quality Gabon side in it so it is genuine.
Clearly the Moroccans have a strength as a defensive unit and with a number of their players born in France that probably comes as no surprise. The big question, maybe not so much here but certainly going forward in the tournament, is what their attack can do and have they got someone who can unlock these tight defences.
As you would have expected, Iran breezed through qualifying with a strong defensive rcord and no lack of talent in front of goal either. Four years ago in Brazil, Iran were predominantly a defend at all costs side but they have become a little more expansive under Carlos Quieroz albeit without losing their defensive shape.
The acid test for the Iranians come in the three matches they play in this group. With no disrespect intended to the lesser nations they rise in quality in a big way here so it will be interesting to see if they can impose themselves as an attacking force. It will be difficult but I guess in this company they don’t have a huge amount to lose.
Morocco are sweating over the fitness of right-back Nabil Dirar after he misses recent friendlies with a calf injury. All eyes will be on Hakim Ziyech, the Ajax playmaker who could be the star attraction for the Moroccans.
Iran could be without former Nottingham Forest man Ashkan Dejagah who is rated as a doubt for the game. One man who definitely won’t feature for them is midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi who is suspended.
I’m expecting a lot of tight matches in this group and this one could be the tightest but I think we saw on Thursday that the Asian qualifying section may well be a step or two below the level required in this tournament which may well play into the hands of Morocco.
Morocco have been campaigning at a better level than Iran and probably have the players most likely to open the game up should it be opened up. I’ll take them to win the match on the Asian lines which provide a good deal of draw cover and then I’ll have a smaller bet on them to win to nil given their defensive record.
Back Morocco (-0.25AH) to beat Iran for a 4/10 stake at 1.90 with NetBet
Back Morocco to win to nil for a 2/10 stake at 3.25 with BetVictor