Iran make most of good fortune and other talking points from late win over Morocco

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz’s 95th-minute own goal provided heartbreak for Morocco and joy for Iran as they began Group B at World Cup 2018 with a fortuitous – and valuable – 1-0 win.

Caution had ruled the day at Saint Petersburg Stadium previously. But a free-kick deep into added time was ruinously headed home by the St. Pauli centre forward to hand Team Melli just their second-ever victory in the tournament.

Here are the talking points:

SLIM PICKINGS IN SAINT PETERSBURG

Anyone expecting a World Cup classic would have been well advised to look elsewhere.

Stoicism rather than style defined both combatants in qualifying – and the same was true in the competition proper. The late own goal provided a fitting denouement.

Morocco, to earn their first appearance since 1998, conceded no goals in the stringent final round of CAF qualifying. Iran saved the concession of their only two goals in the same stage of the AFC process for the last fixture against Syria.

By half-time, only two shots on target apiece had been registered. Iran’s pair came from Rubin Kazan striker Sardor Azmoun’s spurned one-on-one and AZ Alkmaar forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s subsequent rebound in the 42nd minute, while an earlier goalmouth scramble was the highlight for the toothless Atlas Lions.

After the break, Ajax talent Hakim Ziyech forced a fine low save from team Melli goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. Then, the drama followed through replacement Bouhaddouz’s infamous interjection.

For Morocco, they possessed creation in spades through Al Jazira centre midfielder Mbark Boussoufa, Galatasaray playmaker Younes Belhanda and Ziyech – a player with an African high 11 assists in qualifying and 2017/18 Eredivisie best of 15.

Yet, the latter two dropped deep and were then detailed to ping harmless long balls into the channels against a deep-lying – and grateful – Iran defence.

Carlos Queiroz’s men hung in there and embraced their moment of fortune. This now piles pressure on Portugal in the likely race for second spot.

GOLDEN BOY IS LOSING HIS SHINE

Azmoun was the emerging wonder boy four years ago, surprisingly cut in the final stages from Iran’s World Cup squad for Brazil.

This time, he arrived in Russia – the land of his employment with Rubin – with an impressive 23 international goals in 33 appearances. A true heir to the bullish Ali Daei.

Yet, 2017/18 witnessed the first backwards steps in a career defined by its precipitous rise.

His summer return to Rubin from Rostov was contested. Then, only five goals followed in 28 matches.

Uncertainty defined both his failed first-half one-on-one and woeful second-half pass to Olympiakos attacker Karim Ansarifard.

Showcasing his true quality in the games to come is key to reinforcing Iran’s hopes of a debut knockout-stage run.

FBL-WC-2018-MATCH4-MAR-IRI

ASIA’S SHOT IN THE ARM

The recriminations have been predictably hyperbolic since Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 thumping by hosts Russia on Thursday night.

‘How could they let these teams in?’, was the predictable statement.

What the floundering Green Falcons produced was embarrassing for all concerned. But these aspersions shouldn’t be extended to the whole continent.

Iran did not produce magical football on Friday in Asia’s first World Cup victory since 2010, enjoying just 37-per-cent possession. A repetition of becoming the first team since 1966 to score a goal in a half of football in the World Cup without attempting a single shot in that half is not likely to be repeated.

Mitigation is provided by the cancellation of pre-event friendlies because of organisational and political issues.

They also flew through Asian qualifying, boast an abundance of talented players in Europe and should only get better from here.

Australia, Japan and South Korea can be inspired by this granite performance.

Most popular

Hakim Ziyech fails to showcase his talent in Morocco player ratings after late Iran defeat

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz’s 95th-minute own goal provided heartbreak for Morocco and joy for Iran as they began Group B at World Cup 2018 with a fortuitous – and valuable – 1-0 win.

Caution had ruled the day at Saint Petersburg Stadium previously. But a free-kick deep into added time was ruinously headed home by the St. Pauli centre forward to hand Team Melli just their second-ever victory in the tournament.

Here are the Morocco player ratings:

MOROCCO (4-2-3-1)

Munir Mohamedi – 7: Stood up well to deny Sardar Azmoun’s one-on-one and Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s rebound at the end of a dour first half.

Nordin Amrabat – 6: Bombed on from right-back, but couldn’t deliver a quality cross. Taken off with concussion for his younger brother, Sofyan.

Mehdi Benatia – 5: Regularly charged out of defence to try and spark counter-attacking opportunities. This, however, all too often caused danger.

Romain Saiss – 6: Precious little to do as Iran went for a cagey approach.

Achraf Hakimi – 5: The Real Madrid right-back continued at left-back for his country. Only produced one cross.

Karim El Ahmadi – 6: Killed one promising counter-attack for Iran with a wily foul. Otherwise, tried to recycle possession.

Mbark Boussoufa – 6: Had evidently been told to pump balls into the channels. Has shown he can be much more than this at Al Jazira – and beyond.

Hakim Ziyech – 6: Forced one great save from Iran shot stopper Alireza Beiranvand. Yet, he flitted between deep positions out wide where he couldn’t truly hurt Iran. What a waste of an assist machine.

GettyImages-975354570 (1)

Younes Belhanda – 5: Another victim of Renard’s tactics. Much more was expected of the 28-year-old Galatasaray creator.

Amine Harit – 6: Ballooned an excellent early chance in the second half. Tried to inject pace with his dribbling.

Ayoub El Kaabi – 4: The only outfield player in Morocco’s squad employed in the local Botola league appeared far too raw for this rarefied level and was hooked.

SUBS

Sofyan Amrabat – N/A: The Feyenoord man slotted in for his stunned sibling at right-back.

Aziz Bouhaddouz – N/A: A substitution of huge consequence. Stretched too far to repel a free-kick and could only flick it into his own net.

Manuel da Costa – N/A: İstanbul Basaksehir defender was brought on near the end to allow Ziyech to push up. Plan didn’t work out.

Most popular

Ricardo Gareca to show off mastery of 'Beautiful Game' and other Peru v Denmark talking points

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Peru and Denmark kick-off their World Cup 2018 campaigns on Saturday when they meet at Mordovia Arena.

This Group C-clash will pit two intriguing teams against each other, brimming with exciting talent. With France expected to run away with first place, this game – between nations that progressed through the play-offs – should be a key battle towards deciding who will finish behind them.

Here are the talking points:

GARECA IS A GIFT TO THE WORLD CUP

Millions of uninitiated football fans from across the globe are about to fall in love.

Peru are a nation rich in footballing history, who’ve gone under the radar during 36 years away from the World Cup. Their time in the shadows has been ended by head coach Ricardo Gareca – and in some style, too.

The beloved former Argentine striker – twice a target for the UAE last year – has twinned the warrior spirit redolent of his ‘Tigre’ nickname with a devotion to the maxims of the ‘Beautiful Game’. Spectacular goals have followed, with emerging Aalborg winger Edison Flores’ strike in March’s impressive 2-0 victory against Croatia leading the way.

Sao Paulo playmaker Christian Cueva dropped deep to exchange passes under pressure with the centre-backs, before Watford forward Andre Carillo quickened the pace with a delightful back-heel.

Left-back Miguel Trauco then raced into centre midfield and swept a perfect pass behind the hypnotised Croatia centre-backs. Veteran forward Jefferson Farfan burst into the space and cut back for Flores to tap-in one of 2018’s best goals.

Repeat the trick in Russia and it won’t just be Peru’s iconic kit that attracts the neutrals.

Peru's coach Ricardo Gareca attends a training session at Mordovia Arena.

Peru’s coach Ricardo Gareca attends a training session at Mordovia Arena.

ERIKSEN’S TIME TO SHINE

Michael Laudrup might not have been present for Denmark’s finest hour, but there is no doubting his standing within the game.

Few playmakers have reached the level of technical mastery present when he pressed the ignition switch for Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona from 1989-94.

This legacy, however, remains diminished at national level by his no-show for Euro 1992’s shock victory. An opening that Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen could take advantage of.

Eriksen was the shining light for club – some achievement with England captain Harry Kane present – and country in the previous season. A career-best tally of 14 goals during 46 matches in all competitions showcased his increased lethality, while the hat-trick against the Republic of Ireland in November’s play-offs was a joy to behold.

Group C presents plentiful opportunity for further personal glory. Peru’s 26 goals conceded was the most within CONMEBOL qualifying’s top five, while only during March were four goals let in by Australia against fellow Scandinavians Norway.

Spurs club-mate Hugo Lloris has also shown signs of fallibility in goal during recent months.

Inspire a surge to top spot in Group C and the competitions becomes wide open for Denmark.

Laudrup should expect company in Denmark’s Pantheon.

Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen disembarks from a plane at Anapa airport near Vityazevo.

Denmark’s midfielder Christian Eriksen disembarks from a plane at Anapa airport near Vityazevo.

SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE?

You have to go back until winter 2016 for either Peru or Denmark to taste defeat in a FIFA-sanctioned match.

This durability – 15 unbeaten fixtures apiece – points to both the courage instilled in the South Americans by Gareca and the efficacy of the aggressive, direct game plan that has seen Norwegian head coach Age Hareide light the fuse under ‘Danish Dynamite’.

The question now is whether Mordovia Arena will witness a cagey opener upon which both sides look to protect their infallible runs, or they instead boast the confidence to push on for a momentum-building early result?

The characters on show seem to fit the latter scenario. Peru are emboldened by the freezing of record goal scorer Paolo Guerrero’s 14-month ban for a failed drugs test caused by drinking contaminated tea, with Flores, Cueva and Farfan sure to provide excellent ammunition.

Hareide has based his reign on bringing the best out of Eriksen. A tally of 15 goals from him in 19 matches speaks volumes.

This is even without counting on a support cast that includes proficient Feyenoord centre forward Nicolai Jorgensen and towering RB Leipzig forward Yussuf Poulsen.

With such talents on show, you’d hope attacking football reigns supreme.

Edison Flores of Peru takes a shot against Scotland.

Edison Flores of Peru takes a shot against Scotland.

Most popular