#WorldCup: Wonder Wednesday turns woeful with Middle East losing streak

#WorldCup: Wonder Wednesday turns woeful with Middle East losing streak
World Cup 2018: Despite strong performances from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran, the Middle Eastern teams couldn't catch a break in their second round of World Cup games.
4 min read
20 Jun, 2018
Spain only managed one goal against a valiant Iran [Getty]
Wednesday was a loaded day with Middle Eastern action in the World Cup. Three out of the five region's representatives have been officially eliminated, and the fourth one produced a massive performance, but lost in the end.

The day started with Morocco's encounter with Portugal, and yet another Arab defeat in the tournament. It was the second game in a row where Morocco suffered a frustrating defeat, despite being the better team on the field.

The Atlas Lions outclassed Portugal everywhere on the pitch, except in the box itself. They created chances, but simply couldn't score.

Unless Morocco was conceding so fast and early in the game, we might have been discussing the heroic performance by the North Africans.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo dived onto the corner cross and headed the ball in after only four minutes only, making the match easy for his team. Ronaldo already has four goals at the moment and this seems to be his tournament.

Morocco is a great loss for the World Cup. A talented, varied and quality team, that in 180 minutes did everything right except scoring.

Herve Renard proved his quality as a tactical coach, but he lacked the right planning with his frontline. Morocco wasn't lethal up front, and eventually that is what went against them. Morocco became the first team to be officially eliminated from the World Cup.

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Saudi Arabia

Next on board were the Saudis. After being humiliated by the Russians in the first match day, many expected that Uruguay will explode on the Green Falcons with at least three goals. Surprisingly, this wasn't the case.

The Saudis were holding, attacking and threatening the goal in their own timid and limited way. It didn't provide much, even against a very sleepy Uruguayan side. Luis Suarez, Barcelona striker remained free in the box to score from a close range - his first in the competition.

Saudi Arabia was trying and trying, but each move proved why they were counted as the one of the two weakest teams in Russia. Despite the mild progress under Juan Antonio Pizzi, in these levels it is not enough to progress. You must deliver and take any chance you get. The Saudis were fighting to get a chance, and every time they did the ball went wide, out and away.

Despite the inaccuracy of their game, the Saudis deserve a good word. Rising up from such hammering defeat as the one they suffered against Russia, is mentally hard, and they did it.

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The last match of the day was Iran against Spain. The atmosphere in the Kazan Arena was simply electrifying. The Iranian fans took over the Tatarstan capital, present everywhere from the streets, to the metro, all the way to the stands.

Every attack by Spain was received with great noise and atmosphere.

Carlos Queiroz surprised all by leaving Alireza Jahanbakhs, Iran's star player on the bench, instead starting with Mehdi Taremi and Karim Ansarifad with Sardar Azmoun, for whom it could have easily been a home match as he plays for local Russian club, Kazan.

The Iranian defence was highly organised and coped well with the Spanish attempts.

Despite the pressure, Iran played. Oh yeah. Aggressive, organised and dangerous. The crowd had an imminent support for them.

The second half was a fairy tale of football. Spain opened very strong and gained the first goal in the 54th minute.

But Iran did not fell apart. 

Iran attacked, defended well, and even scored an equaliser, that the linesman called off unrightfully. The game continued with a honourable display by the Iranians and their fans.

Regardless of the result, Iran was heroic in Kazan on Wednesday night. They stood as equals against one of the top national teams in the world, and brought a lot of respect to the region despite losing 1-0.

The last match day in Group B, when Iran will play Portugal in a private derby for their coach Carlos Quieroz, and Spain will play Morocco, is going to be as intense as the Kazan Arena in Tatarstan was on Wednesday night. 

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Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here