Morocco substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz, who headed into his own net in stoppage time to gift Iran a 1-0 victory on Friday night in their opening Group B World Cup clash, has found an unlikely source of support.
Iran forward Reza Ghoochannejhad sent Bouhaddouz a consoling Instragram post after the match to ease the pain of the St Pauli forward.
“I don’t know you personally but in life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” began Ghoochannejhad’s post.
“Don’t let this own goal bring you down. We are all professional sportsmen and this is a part of football.
“I am so happy and proud of my team and my country, but wanted to wish you also all the best in your career. Reza.”
Heartbreak for Morocco!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 15, 2018
Bouhaddouz heads it into his own net in stoppage time to give Iran the lead. pic.twitter.com/7FA7Migvk5
The generous gesture from the former Charlton forward proved a big hit with Instagram fans with over 177,000 likes.
The unlucky winning goal came deep into injury-time, with the unfortunate Bouhaddouz, a second-half replacement, heading a cross directly into his own net at the near post.
If it had been at the other end it would have been a stunning winner.
At the final whistle Bouhaddouz had to be helped from the field in floods of tears, his team-mates consoling him – and understandably so.
humility shows, always ❤️ Iranian team Melli players making us proud. reaching out to Aziz Bouhaddouz pic.twitter.com/C3ESwLWA2H— Arian (@arianbehraz) June 15, 2018
Morocco, whose task of qualifying for the knockout stages was already difficult as they are in the same group as Spain and Portugal, now have a mountain to climb to get out of the group stages.
Their next match against Portugal on Wednesday night at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow now becomes a must win for the Moroccans.
The World Cup hasn’t truly started until Brazil come to the party and they face a stubborn if unimaginative Switzerland first up in Russia.
Neymar, fully fit after his injury worry, leads a scary looking line-up but the Swiss have a habit of making things tricky – having conceded just seven goals in 10 qualification games.
Below, we outline some of the key match-ups set to play out in the Rostov Arena on Sunday.
NEYMAR v XHERDAN SHAQIRI
Fractured metatarsals have scuppered numerous superstars in World Cups gone by – not Neymar.
The Samba Boys have already benefitted from his dancing feet as he scored in a cameo against Croatia and again versus Austria, on his first start for club or country since the injury with PSG in February.
Four years ago Neymar was suffering under the burden of an average team and an entire nation before his back literally gave way in his home World Cup.
Now that Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus have emerged as bonafide superstars, not to mention Roberto Firmino on the bench, Neymar can operate without such suffocating pressure.
That attacking triumvirate’s ease at pulling out wide into channels or dropping off at will is certain to rip open pockets of space for the main man.
Xherdan Shaqiri was at the epicentre of an uncharacteristically entertaining Switzerland side in 2014. Sadly for him, if he had truly kicked on since his exploits in South America, he wouldn’t be playing for a relegated Stoke.
The 26-year-old has been dubbed in some optimistic quarters ‘the Alpine Messi’ though his proclivity to slalom in and out of games is evidence of the Kosovo-born Shaqiri’s Swiss upbringing.
Alas, the reported Liverpool target is just about Switzerland’s only source of ingenuity, stationed wide on the right, and his battle with an exploitable Marcelo will be intriguing.
Coach Vladimir Petkovic though will first and foremost be looking for work-rate, a common black mark against Shaqiri’s name. With Marcelo and Neymar in his eye-line he can’t afford to switch off.
CASEMIRO v GRANIT XHAKA
If at his best, Brazil have themselves a protector of a realm that delights in flair and fun. If at his worst – and he’s certainly plumbed depths with Real Madrid this year – Casemiro will be too busy tripping over his own feet than looking after his Samba Boys.
Having emerged as an immovable anchor in Real’s run to three Champions League trophies in a row, he was as culpable as anyone for their sluggish start to the season: misplaced passes, rash decision-making and a general air of fatigue.
His form recovered well enough as Real completed their European treble in May, though he doesn’t have the assuredness of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos (when in form) in front of him for Brazil. The defensive responsibility is that much more acute.
While Casemiro relishes playing the enforcer, Granit Xhaka has been a faux hard man in a difficult first two seasons with Arsenal.
Xhaka has a semblance of physicality about him, unlike much of the Gunners midfield, and thus was forced into playing more of a defensive role than he was accustomed to at Borussia Monchengladbach.
He’s much better with the ball at his feet, equally adept at long, raking passes and the pin-point short stuff. Given that he made seven goals in the Premier League last season too he was more effective in an attacking sense than he was given credit for.
It’ll be interesting to see who is played as the midfield pivot alongside him – Valon Behrami’s savvy but waning physical powers, or Denis Zakaria – an up-and-coming defensive midfielder but who is prone to moments of madness. Ill-discipline against Brazil would spell disaster.
MARCELO v STEPHAN LICHTSTEINER
Lichtsteiner, at 34, was used sparingly by Max Allegri at Juventus last season though he was the catalyst behind one of the most effective substitutions of the campaign.
With Tottenham set to boot the Old Lady out of the Champions League in March, the Swiss captain came on to replace Andrea Barzagli at right-back and was responsible for Paulo Dybala’s first in a 2-1 comeback victory.
Despite his advancing years he’s not afraid of a raid down the wing and his link-up with Shaqiri will be intriguing.
All that nous acquired over a long and successful career will be needed to stymie Marcelo, too.
It’s impossible to predict what you’ll get from Marcelo defensively game to game. He can be outrageous – in either sense of the word – and his powers of recovery aren’t what they used to be at 30 years old.
Further up the pitch though and that’s where he finds some consistency. He has one of the best first touches in football and adds even more width to a team who love stretching defences to the seams.
Alex Sandro, Lichtsteiner’s erstwhile team-mate at Juventus, does not even get a look-in for the Selecao down the left flank.
In World Cup Group C, Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha awarded France a controversial penalty on Saturday after consulting with the VAR method.
Defender Josh Ridson was adjudged to have brought down Antoine Griezmann when the French forward was bearing down on goal.
The VAR team in Moscow were summoned into action after the referee enacted the video hand gesture having allowed play to go on.
Griezmann converted the second-half spot-kick on 58 minutes before Mile Jedinak equalised four minutes later following Samuel Umtiti’s handball.
The match is currently 1-1.
It is the first time VAR has been used in World Cup history.