World Cup LIVEBLOG: Iran v Morocco

World Cup LIVEBLOG: Iran v Morocco
Minute-by-minute updates from Iran and Morocco's opening game in their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaigns.
12 min read
15 June, 2018
17:59:48 - Well, how about that? A great first 20 minutes for Morocco, a pretty even hour to follow and another winner in the dying minutes as both teams seemed to have given it their all.

That's it from us for today. We'll see you again on Monday for Tunisia v England. Wishing all readers an Eid Mubarak and a peaceful weekend!

17:56:36 - FULL TIME. Iran's first World Cup win in 20 years!

17:56:07 - And it was an own goal at that, from Bouhaddouz desperately trying to clear away from the corner of the goal.

17:54:40 - GOAL! Iran take three points in the dying moments of the game

17:53:49 - Free kick for Iran...

17:51:48 - Yellow card for Ansafarifard. And it's kicking off between the coaching teams. Tensions are high.

17:51:10 - That's 90 minutes gone. Six minutes of injury time to follow. How many players are going to make it that long? They're dropping like flies now.

17:50:17 - It's true that FIFA could learn a thing or two about head injury assessments from the world of rugby...

17:49:08 - Rezaeian goes down and gives us more free rolls than you get with a soup course.

17:46:47 - A draw in this match pretty much guarantees Portugal and Spain the top spots in this group. Which you could probably have predicted even before this match, to be honest.

17:46:32 - 

17:44:03 - Alireza Jahanbaksh, of whom so much was expected, is being stretchered off with what looks like a nasty cramp. Ghoddos coming on in his place. A little over five minutes to go. Both teams looking tired.

17:42:23 - Morocco's Amine Harit, who's had a pretty eventful game so far, comes off the field and is replaced by Da Costa, of West Ham fame.

17:40:02 - CLOSE! Ziyech's shot on target gets pushed out for a corner. Ziyech also takes the corner, with some attacking play following. Alas, it comes to naught.

17:39:30 - And a change for Iran - acting captain Ebrahimi is off after taking a knock and refusing a stretcher. Mantazeri comes on in his place.

17:36:42 - El-Kaabi's also coming off for Morocco. He makes room for the towering figure of Bouhaddouz.

17:35:47 - Noureddine Amrabat comes off the field. He's replaced by his brother, Souffian Amrabat. Let's hope Nordin makes a swift recovery.

17:32:39 - Oh no, Amrabat's down. Did he lose consciousness? The Watford man is helped to his feet, but he's not looking great. That's got to be the end of his game, surely..?

17:31:51 - We hear you. Would have loved Egypt to have held on for a point.

17:30:18 - It hasn't.

17:29:47 - Another corner for Iran. Let's see how the set-piece preparation has paid off...

17:29:04 - Taremi was the Gulf Pro-League's top scorer this season, incidentally.

17:26:27 - A substitution for Iran. Number 17, Taremi, comes on for Shojaei. The captain hands the armband to Omid Ebrahimi.

17:22:03 - Corner whipped in, and punched out by Beiranvand in Iran's goal. A muted counter-attack follows, and now there's a bit of a face-off between Shojaei and Belhanda - looks like the Iranian captain fell over the ball, and the Moroccan fell over him - though Belhanda's studs were raked across Shojaei's right leg in the process.

17:21:32 - Corner for Morocco...

17:19:04 - How long are Team Melli fans going to look like this?


17:18:07 - Coming up to the hour mark, and it's still 0-0. Could do with a goal soon to keep the interest going...

17:15:55 - Iran's Omid Ebrahimi is down, after an awkward challenge and a fall on the ball. Looks OK to continue.

17:14:58 - Handball awarded against Morocco's Ziyech, though there wasn't much he could have done about the ball fired at his arm from very short range.

17:14:09 - This is the third game of the World Cup, and one of those ended 5-0...

17:11:29 - The first half of the first half was all Morocco, but Iran have been strong since.

17:10:49 - Iran on the break, again exposing Morocco's vulnerability at the back.

17:09:05 -Beautiful cross from Watford's Amrabat into Harit, who somehow boots it out near the corner flag.

17:07:25 - Yellow card for Jahanbaksh for stepping on a Moroccan foot. Didn't look deliberate to me.

17:05:13 - Second half about to begin...

17:04:09 - I recognise this guy. At least, his fez is familiar... 

16:48:49 - Half-time. And I think the one things we can all agree on is that Iran's Ramin Rezaeian clearly has the best hair of the tournament so far.

16:47:52 - Two minutes of injury time for the first half...

16:46:53 - Haji Safi powers a long-range free-kick just over the bar. There was some heft on that shot.

16:44:50 - Azmoun with the best chance of the game so far, a double-save later and the ball goes out for Iran's first corner. 

16:42:24 - Throw-in taken for Iran by Amiri, eventually cleared from the box, but Pouraliganji takes a knock and play briefly pauses.

16:39:11 - Azmoun now needing some magic spray as Iran's medics come onto the pitch for a few moments. Seems to be fine, though.

16:36:33 - Morocco's El-Ahmadi picks up a yellow card for tapping the heels of Sardar Azmoun... subsequent free kick sent high, high and into the car park. It might still be going...

16:34:24 - Free kick taken by Iran's captain Shojaei floats into the box and bounces back and forth a few times amid pleas for a handball, cleared with no real danger presented.

16:33:37 - Good effort there from Harit for Morocco, with a shot on target - just couldn't find the space to aim anywhere other than the keeper's arms.

16:32:39 - We think this is legal, but it's unusual...

16:30:30 - Well, someone's got the Insta filters out... 

16:28:31 - Another solid passage of play for Morocco, featuring two blocked shots, comes to an end with a foul by Ziyech on Ansarifard.

16:27:18 - On that note... 

16:25:46 - The match is a treat for fans of European leagues - Iran's team has just four players playing in the domestic league, and on Morocco's entire squad, there's just one player - Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti, the third-choice goalkeeper - who plays for a local team.

16:23:50 - Free kick to Iran after Ansarifard seems to get a boot in the back.

16:22:32 - Great counter from Iran, catching Morocco napping - they're pressing so high up the field, they're exposed at the back. Just couldn't make it stick for a goal.

16:20:57 - How was there not a goal there? Morocco corner comes in, bounces off about five red-shirted Atlas Lions and somehow goes out for another corner, which goes out for a throw-in - and nothing.

16:17:25  - Morocco's Amine Harit drags down Iran's Sardar Azmoun. Free kick comes to nothing.

16:16:06 - Iran on the attack... oh, not for long.

16:15:40 - I thought they'd just trained the St Petersburg bees... 

16:11:53 - Iran's captain, Masoud Shojaei, picks up the first yellow card of the match with a sneaky boot into a Moroccan Achilles...

16:11:23 - Amrabat's cross blocked by Cheshmi.

16:11:13 - A reminder that, while the United States hasn't even been able to qualify for this World Cup, Donald Trump's Washington regime has even been able to dictate what boots the Iranian team wears. Nike pulled out of supplying Tem Melli due to the sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran.

What happens if Iran qualifies for the 2026 World Cup, now due to be hosted in the US, Canada and Mexico - if Trump's "travel ban" is still in place?

16:08:03 - Strong start for Morocco - the first five minutes is all them.

16:06:47 - Nordin Amrabat, the Watford player on loan to Leganes, showing that he's going to be one to watch this game...

16:05:36 - Second corner for Morocco cleared without much danger.

16:04:03 - First decent chance comes for Morocco, Amine Harit sends it wide.

16:03:04 - For both teams, this is a must-win match. With Portugal and Spain in the group, it might be a match to see who comes third/fourth, rather than qualifying for the final 16.

16:02:32 - Morocco kicks off

16:02:08 - 25 degrees in St Petersburg. Iran in white. Morocco in red.

16:00:01 - 

15:58:55 - The anthems have been sung - we're nearly ready for kick-off!

15:31:19 - For more on the Middle East teams in this World Cup, check out our exclusive preview...

15:24:48 - Right, here we go then. 35 mins until kick-off, and this is what The New Arab's football correspondent, Uri Levy, had to say about the two teams:


Nickname: The Atlas Lions

Coach: Herve Renard

Star: Hakim Ziyech

Arriving to Russia as: Underdogs aiming to shock the world

Expectations: Round of 16.

The Moroccans have had a fantastic footballing year. Wydad Casablanca won the African Champions League, while more and more European-born Moroccans have signed for clubs in the domestic league. Meanwhile, the 2026 World Cup bid has made headlines worldwide - and the national team has grabbed a World Cup spot after 20 long years, after a campaign in which they didn't concede a single goal.

There's no doubt, that since Herve Renard signed on to lead the national team in 2016, the Atlas Lions have not stopped improving.

The first coach to win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with two different countries (Zambia and Ivory Coast), Renard is respected throughout the footballing world, and Moroccos's victory against the Ivory Coast in Abidjan will be remembered as one of the best displays of an African side in World Cup qualifications, ever - simply a divine tactical display.

The Moroccans have an extremely talented squad, with the majority of players having come up through European leagues and qualifying for the national team through their heritage rather than birth. 

Mehdi Benattia of Juventus, Hakim Ziyech (the Dutch Eredivisie Player of the Year), Amine Harit of Schalke 04 Real Madrid's Achraf Hakimi are just some of the names which decorate the Atlas Lions' teamsheet.

Renard and his players will look to surprise the whole world and qualify from a near-impossible Group B, which also features Spain, Portugal and Iran. 

But there is a route to the knock-out stages.

If Iran lose all three group games - to Morocco, Spain and Portugal, finishing bottom of the group - Morocco just needs (somehow) to draw against both Portugal (currently ranked the fourth best team in the world by FIFA) and Spain (10th).

With such a squad and the tremendous support of thousands of the Dima Maghreb fans who have made their way to Russia, anything is possible. In the past few months thousands of signs have festooned Casablanca: "Russia, we are coming." They have arrived. 

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia, Spain), Yassine Bounou (Girona, Spain), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger).

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus, Italy), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton, England), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir, Turkey), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid, Spain), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France).

Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira, UAE), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord, Holland), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen, France), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord, Holland), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray, Turkey), Faycal Fajr (Getafe, Spain), Amine Harit (Schalke 04, Germany).

Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor, Turkey), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli, Germany), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (on loan to Leganes, Spain, from Watford, England), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege, Belgium), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax, Holland), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga, Spain).

Fans show their support ahead of the friendly match against Serbia [Getty]



Nickname: Team Melli

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star: Alireza Jahanbakhsh

Arriving to Russia: Hoping football will beat the sanctions

Expectations: Fighting for an unlikely spot in the final 16.

Each year, the Iranian football community runs a survey - which team is the favourite in the country? Tehran's giants Persepolis and Esteghlal are always on top - but there is one team that always receives even greater support - Team Melli, the Iranian national team.

It's almost taken for granted. For years, Iran has been the best national team in Asia, and was the second team to guarantee their place in Russia, after Brazil.

With Carlos Quieroz, the former Portugal and Real Madrid coach, in charge, the Iranians have begun a long process of upgrading their football skillset. More than 20 of the Iranian squad played in Europe this season. That's a direct result of Quieroz's great work with the Iranian players over the past seven years, and also an indication of the emerging Iranian footballing talent.

The marquee player in Queiroz's lineup is Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the Dutch Eredivisie top scorer, who has netted 21 goals and 12 assists this season. Jahanbaksh is the first Asian footballer to become a top scorer in any European league. But he is not alone in Russia - Sardar Azmoun of Rubin Kazan, Saman Ghoddos of Ostersunds and Mehdi Taremi from Al-Gharafa are all part of a striking Iranian attacking force here at the World Cup.

Iran's captains - Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi - are two players mired in controversy. The pair were targeted by Iranian politicians and media after playing for Panionios, their Greek former club, against Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv. Many in the bubbles of the elite called for them to be banned - but grassroots Iranian fans supported them with an online campign - #NoBanForOurPlayers was one of Twitter's highest trending topics in 2017. 

While the political storm raged, Shojaei ended up winning the league with AEK Athens, while Hajsafi became an indispensable part of Olympiakos. The two experienced and talented figures will lead the way for Team Melli in Russia.

But despite the promising squad and great coach, Iran's preparations have met a serious obstacle - the US sanctions regime against the country. The friendlies against Greece, Kosovo and Italy were all cancelled, and the Iranians have only had a chance to play against Uzbekistan and Lithuania - not a great gauge of the skill levels of their rivals in the powerful Group B (Portugal, Spain, Morocco).

In addition, Nike, the sports brand that represents eight players on the Iranian squad, have reportedly asked their representatives not to wear the company's shoes during the tournament - as part of the US-led sanctions. 

When politics gets involved in football, it's always a complete madhouse - the United States couldn't even qualify for the tournament, but Trump's presence is felt here in Russia.

With Morocco in the group, anything is possible. Iran's second game is against Spain in Kazan - home to striker Sardar Azmoun, where he will receive huge support from locals. It is unlikely that the Iranians will grab something from a world class team like Spain, though there is a slim chance of success against Portugal. 

Like Morocco, the campaign will not be easy, but it will be hard-fought.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beyranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo, Portugal).

Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende, Belgium), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad, Qatar), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos, Greece).

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatollahi (Amkar Perm, Russia), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens, Greece), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos, Greece).

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, Holland), Mahdi Taremi (Al Gharafa, Qatar), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen, Holland), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds, Sweden), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest, England), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis).

Iranian players train at Lokomotiv Bakovka Training Centre ahead of the World Cup [Getty]