Diego Costa doubles up to show different side to Spain in their draw against Portugal at World Cup 2018

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Diego Costa produced the perfect retort to cries that his physical play does not befit the Spain jersey, striking twice during an electric 3-3 draw with Portugal as their World Cup 2018 campaign got under way in gripping fashion.

Only the superhuman efforts of Cristiano Ronaldo could deny the Atletico Madrid colossus a winning performance in Group B.

Here, we analyse his display:

STATISTICS 

Goals – 2

Assists – 0

Shots – 3

Shots on target – 2

Touches – 29

Passes – 18

Key passes – 0

Dribbles – 2

Dispossessed – 0

30-SECOND REPORT

Costa’s raw edge was favoured by new head coach Fernando Hierro.

This faith was rewarded when he became a human battering ram versus old Real Madrid rival Pepe and then expertly found the bottom corner to make it 1-1 with a first-ever shot at the World Cup.

After the break, his predatory instincts allowed him to tap-in Sergio Busquets’ header. This made it 2-2 and completed an atypical La Roja brace.

GOT RIGHT

TAKE YOUR CHANCES: Opportunities usually come in quick succession when you lead the attack for Spain. The key is to make them count.

A return of two goals from three attempts is exemplary. Valencia’s Rodrigo and Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas boast more refined qualities, but you would not back either to produce such figures.

PROVE THE DOUBTERS WRONG: Costa is meant to be too brutish to play striker for Spain, his over-reliance on brawn over brains making him an incongruous presence.

Yet at Fisht Stadium, a sterling exhibition of centre-forward play was put on. The Atleti powerhouse’s pass accuracy of 88.9 per cent was greater than Manchester City magician David Silva’s 85.7 per cent, plus he was not dispossessed once.

KEY MOMENTS

24th min GOAL: Did what no other Spain striking option could do and knocked Besiktas warrior Pepe clean off his feet – with the officials declining to refer to VAR. Then held off several challenges and rasped an unstoppable effort low into the bottom corner.

35th min CHANCE: Tried to follow-up Real Madrid playmaker Isco’s sensational shot that rattled the crossbar, but was both offside and denied by Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

55th min GOAL: Was in the right spot to poke home Busquets’ header that came from a lofted David Silva’s free-kick. Utterly un-Spain, totally Costa.

77th min SUBSTITUTED: His night’s work was done and he trudged off for Aspas.

VERDICT

This was everything Hierro could have asked for – and more.

Costa bullied Pepe and Jose Fonte, a centre-back pairing who were the best at Euro 2016 for the champions. He was then unflinching in front of goal, only snapping at one second-half shot.

The Brazil-born striker’s presence adds an extra element to the Spanish passing carousel that could prove invaluable during the defining weeks to come.

RATING: 8/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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

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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.

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

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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.

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