Bouhaddouz own goal hands Iran late victory over Morocco

Carlos Queiroz

Reigning European champions Portugal and 2010 World Cup winners Spain are the other two teams in Group B and are overwhelming favorites to progress to the knockout stages.

Standings: Iran - 3 (1 match), Spain - 0 (0), Portugal - 0 (0), Morocco - 0 (1).

Iran have qualified for the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments for the first time.

Defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi is suspended for Iran and will miss the match.

Morocco started the game on the front-foot but were lucky to go in level at the break as Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun broke in behind for Iran but could only aim his shot too close to Munir Mohamedi, who then did well to keep out Alireza Jahanbakhsh's strike from the rebound.

Morocco largely dominated in the first half, although Iran proved unsafe on the counter-attack, in a game soundtracked by the constant buzz of vuvuzelas in a close-to-capacity Saint Petersburg Stadium.

He said he had been telling the players that they need to play with a sense of loyalty to the fans, with respect for their opponents and with humble attitude knowing that they have limitations.

Herve Renard's team were well-organised but Morocco extended their record of never having won their opening game in the tournament despite dominating the match and carving out opportunities to score either side of half-time.

Iran players lift coach Carlos Queiroz as they celebrate after the match on Friday.

"The brilliant attitude, the commitment, the soul, the heart", Queiroz said.

Morocco are appearing in their first World Cup finals since 1998.

"That is something that unfortunately this brand did and, well, it's their responsibility to do such a thing but the image they have [projected] at least for 80 million people in Iran is not a really nice image".

Morocco will be hoping Nabil Dirar is passed fit.

Iran have kept a clean sheet in only one of their last 12-games at the World Cup.

Medhi Benatia led Morocco into Russian Federation at the back of a solid defensive performance in the qualifiers where they conceded no goals at all. "It may even be more hard than Portugal and Spain because they will play without pressure".

If one team can nick the win, it might be Morocco.

Morocco nearly turned that initial pressure into a goal in the 19th minute when following a scramble in the area, Medhi Benatia's shot was well saved by Iran keeper Alireza Beiranvand. Iran, despite their tremendous efforts during their qualifying campaign, have had their ups and downs so far, and would not be able to make the grade against Morocco.

The Netherlands may have failed to qualify for the World Cup, but they will not be without representation. The strongest backline in Asia was only breached by Syria after Iran's place was secured in Russian Federation.

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