Moscow, Thursday @PeopleSports11
With Morocco and Iran both priding themselves on rock-solid defending and relentless pressing in midfield, their Group B opener at the World Cup on Friday might look destined to be a stifling match.
Morocco didn’t concede a goal in the decisive round of qualifying and Juventus center half Mehdi Benatia provides exceptional leadership at the back. He is the finest defender on either side, and arguably among the best at the tournament.
Iran was unbeaten in 10 qualifiers, keeping nine straight clean sheets and only letting two in during the last game — by which time coach Carlos Queiroz’s side had already qualified.
While statistics point to a scrappy contest at St. Petersburg stadium, this perhaps underestimates the flair in both sides. Iran’s two-pronged threat comes from Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun. Jahanbakhsh is two-footed and finished as top scorer in the Dutch league with 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar.
Azmoun is equally skillful, but gives Queiroz a different option with his heading ability. He is already fifth on Iran’s all-time list with 23 goals despite being only 23 years old. Given how evenly-matched the sides are, dominating the midfield battle is crucial.-AFP