World Cup LIVEBLOG: Wonder Wednesday
|Click to enlarge|
21:55:34 - FULL TIME: How devastating for Iran, who battled for some good chances in the second half. Iran 0, Spain 1.
21:51:23 - YELLOW CARD for a poor challenge from Omid.
21:50:01 - Four minutes of added time given in which Iran will be looking for an equaliser. Many long balls booted up the field but largely ineffective so far.
21:47:32 - SUBSTITUTION for Spain - goalscorer Diego Costa coming off, Rodrigo on.
21:45:12 - SUBSTITUTION for Iran - Amiri off, Ghoddos on.
21:37:42 - YELLOW CARD for Iran's Amiri for a bad challenge on Carvajal.
21:36:48 - FREE KICK for Spain as we enter the final 15 minutes. However Isco strikes it straight into the wall. The crowd are going wild as the game intesifies.
21:36:16 - Iran get another chance as a dangerous looping ball just evades Mehdi's feet. So close.
21:36:05 - Iran’s star player Jahanbaksh comes on as captain, replacing Karim.
21:29:08 - Spain try to scramble it over the line with brave defending from Iran who literally lie down in a heap in front of the goal.
21:28:36 - SUBSTITUTION - Mohammadi comes on for Haji Safi who looks worse for wear.
21:27:58 - CORNER for Spain as Iniesta fails to find another Spanish player inside the box.
21:20:14 - FREE KICK to Iran 30 yards out.
21:19:02 - Great header from Mehdi, which just goes past the post. Iran responding well with some rare spots of attacking.
21:12:57 - Big chance for Iran with a long throw in, but to no avail as the shot hits the side netting.
21:12:39 - Iran's goal under complete siege with continuous attacks.
21:04:39 - And the second half is off, Spain resume control of play.
20:48:37 - HALF TIME. Kazan is alive with the sound of Iran's vuvuzelas [Getty].
20:40:48 - Haji returns to the pitch with 5 minutes of the first half to go.
20:38:59 - Diego Costa steps on Beiranvard's toe but no action from the ref.
20:36:57 - Iran's Haji Safi down, receiving treatment after colliding with teammate.
20:35:59 - CORNER to Iran as Ramos clears a cross from Ramin. First ball cleared by Diega Costa.
20:22:36 - Two free kicks in a row for Spain, both around 30 yards out, We'll see what happens...
20:08:46 - FREE KICK to Spain. Omid pushes Isco to the floor. The ball just evades the heads of Costa and Pique.
|An ATA Airlines jet carrying Team Melli arrives at Moscow's
Vnukovo International Airport for the World Cup [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.
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).
19:52:32 - Iranian fans who have filled out the arena will be feeling at home in Muslim-majority Kazan, the home stadium of star striker Sardar Azmoun.
17:53:49 - Uruguay with the corner, keeping it in the corner and watching the clock count down
17:49:56 - Saudi on the ball. Hitting the ball sideways but a deflected shot gets a corner
17:44:17 - Saudi Arabia get the ball towards Uruguay's box but again it comes to nothing. But Uruguay's defence have to be commended
17:36:47 - Change up front for Saudi Arabia. Bahbir on for the much taller Kanno. Perhaps a few long balls now by Saudi? They certainly need to create more chances if they want a goal
17:32:22 - Saudi Arabia on the ball again, passes it wide to Otayf but it goes out of play
Uruguay - Muslera, Varela, Gimenez, Godin, Caceres, Sanchez, Vecino, Bentancur, Rodriguez, Suarez, Cavani
Saudi Arabia - Alowais, Alburayk, Osama, Ali, Yasser, Hatan, Salman, Otayf, Taiseer, Salem, Fahad
14:59:06 - The story of the game in one tweet:
Portugal's rivals will take a lot of heart from that game.
14:55:43 - FULL TIME - Portugal 1 - Morocco 0
That's that. Portugal did what they came to do, but will not have made any fans. Morocco played with heart and spirit - but they're the ones getting the first bus home from the World Cup.
14:55:15 - Portugal just slowing down the game in the final moments to deny Morocco another chance...
14:54:32 - Morocco pushing and pushing, but just can't break through Portugal's defence
14:52:50 - CLOSE! How many chances can Benatia get? Sends the ball high over the goal into row Z of the stands...
14:51:32 - Five minutes of added time
14:50:11 - CLOSE! Ziyach's shot blocked by Pepe. Ziyach with the corner, a handball claim puts an end to the passage of play
14:48:46 - CHANGE for Portugal. Moutinho off, Adrien on.
14:48:04 - Morocco's desperation starting to show now. Final three minutes.
14:46:47 - CHANGE for Morocco - ElAmadi off, Fajr on.
14:46:19 - No penalty
14:44:44 - Ronaldo's free kick straight into the wall, he runs for the follow-up and appears to dive at Amrabat's feet. Tiny knee-on-knee contact. Referee's paused play for the VAR
14:43:42 - A chance here for Portugal - a clumsy tackle on Ronaldo brings the Portuguese star down, just outside the box
14:42:55 - While we're waiting for the scoreline to change...
14:41:32 - Mona Eltahawy, renowned Middle East commentator, once again says what we're all thinking...
14:39:34 - It's all Morocco at the moment. Can they keep this intensity going for the final ten minutes? Can they convert a chance? Can they save their World Cup campaign?
14:38:39 - CLOSE - Benatia wastes another free kick from Ziyach as the ball flicks off his shoulder to go wide.
14:37:16 - Portugal's problem is that they've only got one Ronaldo. And he doesn't seem on top form.
14:36:03 - CHANGE for Morocco - Belhanda, who has looked dangerous at several points today, makes way for Carcela in the #23 shirt
14:33:09 - Brief period of possession for Portugal comes to little. With this brave performance, Morocco will have made themselves a few new fans. Ziyach's free kick, however, is wasted - straight to Rui Patricio's waiting gloves. 15 minutes to go.
14:31:43 - No goals, but Nordin Amrabat is this liveblogger's man of the match so far...
14:30:27 - CH-CH-CHANGES for both teams. Morocco's front-man Boutaib makes way for El Kaabi, and Mario comes off Brazil's attack for Bruno Fernandez
14:27:40 - Ziyach of Ajax takes the free kick, but can't get it to dip into the goal. Portugal breathe a sigh of relief.
14:27:00 - Foul on Boussoffa by Raphael. Yellow card?
14:24:52 - That was a clear handball from Guedes, though not much he could have done about it as Amrabat fired the ball into his elbow
14:23:32 - These fans have come to Moscow with only one thing on their minds
14:22:16 - Portugal were one of the favourites for the World Cup coming into this tournament, but their rivals will be taking heart from this display - indiscipline, poor shaping and a reliance on their superstar front man
14:20:31 - And yet another great chance for Morocco as a free kick drops ideally for captain Benatia. Just can't finish - Morocco's problem for the past hour of play.
14:19:26 - CHANGE for Portugal as Silva makes way for Martins.
14:17:40 - Free kick for Morocco after Boussoufa is brought down. Portugal manage to clear and go on a counter-attack - only stopped by Amrabat, who appears to be everywhere down the right-hand side.
14:16:37 - CLOSE AGAIN! Belhanda gets his head onto a free kick from Ziyach, and Patricio is again tested. This game is heating up!
14:15:17 - CLOSE! Belhanda gets onto the end of an Amrabat set-up and fires a belter of a shot - super save from Portugal's Rui Patricio
14:13:58 - Got to love these Morocco fans. Here's a familiar fez... [AFP]
14:13:01 - Amrabat sends it into the box, finds Ziyach, but it's cleared by Bernardo
14:11:50 - Great opportunity for Portugal totally wasted as Ronaldo skies his shot.
14:07:32 - Short corner for Portugal comes to nothing
14:07:07 - The answer's easy, sunshine - you go for the underdog, always!
14:06:13 - And we're off again. Let's hope Morocco had their oranges. Here's some analysis from the BBC:
13:50:17 - HALF TIME - Portugal 1 - Morocco 0. A scoreline that doesn't really reflect the run of the game.
13:48:13 - Amrabat brought down right in front of the linesman on the goal line. Free kick. Belhanda flicks it on, but Benatia is inches away from making contact. That surely would have been an equaliser.
13:47:09 - Three minutes of extra time
13:45:35 - Amrabat finds Ziyach in the box, but Ziyach can't find the goal
13:45:03 - Closing up the first half of the match now.
13:43:14 - ElKajoui getting some praise for his efforts...
13:42:47 - Hav eyou ever seen them in the same room? No, neither have I...
13:41:13 - A moment of distraction for Morocco and Ronaldo chips the ball over into the box - great chance for Portugal, but an outstanding save by ElKajoui
13:39:40 - Can imagine some La Liga talent scouts watching this Morocco team with some relish...
13:38:23 - High-footed foul by Cedric on Belhanda gives Morocco a free kick, but it comes to nothing
13:38:10 - Morocco again! Ziyach just testing Patricio once more.
13:34:27 - Corner for Portugal from Moutinho ends up going out deep; the white shirts just slowing down the game to give themselves some breathing space - but Morocco take it back, and ElAhmedi sends it high and wide. Goal kick. This is shaping up to be a great match.
13:33:35 - Ronaldo fires straight into the Moroccan wall
13:32:40 - Free kick to Portugal, right on the edge of Morocco's box
13:31:48 - Many expected a whitewash from Portugal here. not so - at least not yet.
13:28:28 - No argument here
13:28:17 - Amrabat brought down again! They're clutching each other's shirts and shorts - and it all looks about equal.
13:27:56 - Amrabat brought down on edge of the box - no penalty
13:26:23 - Free kick for Portugal as Benatia catches Ronaldo's left foot and sends CR7 crashing to the ground.
13:24:15 - Ziyach makes a long-range effort, but it's comfortably gathered by Rui Patricio
13:22:54 - The scoreline doesn't favour them, but Moroccos are getting plenty of possession, and plenty of good moves in Portuguese territory
13:20:22 - And another effort comes in from Morocco - just can't get an attacker onto the end of it in front of goal
13:19:46 - Ziyach makes another effort, but held off by the strong Portuguese defence
13:19:10 - Amrabat ditches his protective headgear worn after his suspected concussion in the opening match
13:17:06 - Morocco making a spirited defence in this game. they need to be careful not to press so high they're exposed at the back, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a goal soon...
13:15:42 - Cleared by Portugal, a deep cross is returned into the box - but it all comes to nothing
13:15:02 - Another corner for Morocco...
13:13:06 - Ziyach with the corner, finds Dirar, but Rui Patricio saves Portugal
13:12:09 - Morocco are creating chances here as the first ten minutes comes to a close - now here comes Amrabat, but his effort is cleared away for a corner
13:10:43 - Portugal reply with a break, the ball comes to Ronaldo - Morocco holds its breath - and Ronaldo puts it wide
13:10:03 - Opportunity for Morocco as Boutaib runs up the left flank, but dispossessed.
13:08:43 - Is Ronaldo unstoppable?
13:07:11 - GOAL - Ronaldo dives onto the corner cross and heads the ball into the net
13:05:14 - Silva's cross deflected. Portugal's corner. Cleared. Strong effort comes in, deflected for another corner.
13:03:39 - Strong, bright start from Morocco with Boutaib's first effort just sailing over the crossbar
13:01:47 - Kick off!
13:00:51 - It's clear that Morocco are the underdogs here, but you never know - there's some great talent among the squad. Don't forget Nordin Amrabat even played for the mighty Watford.
12:54:26 - While we're waiting for the anthems, let's remind ourselevs what The New Arab's football correspondent, Uri Levy had to say about the Morocco team:
|The majority of Morocco's players are Europeans
with Moroccan roots [Getty]
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.
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]|
12:48:30 - 12 minutes to kick off in the first of today's matches. Hope you're ready for a marathon day of football!