Best Odds: 37/19
Lady Luck did not smile upon Morocco and Iran when the two nations were slotted in Group B alongside Portugal and Spain. Their hopes of going through to the knockout stages of the World Cup are grasping at straws but a strong opening performance will be a valuable morale boost for both group’s underdogs.
Also known as Atlas Lions, the Moroccan national team will have a tall order ahead of themselves at the World Cup in Russia. Once considered an AFCON mainstay, Morocco has largely struggled internationally over the past couple of years. The African country rose to the occasion however during the qualifying as Herve Renard led his solid Morocco side to their first World Cup appearance in last two decades.
It’s a first-ever for Renard himself who is an experienced name in football, having already managed at a big international stage. He certainly knows how to navigate through tough groups and his Africa Cup of Nations record is there to atest. Having failed only once to guide a team beyond the first stage of the African competition, Renard is a trophy-winning manager who led Zambia and Ivory Coast to continental glory in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Winning the opening match is an absolute must for a team boasting a talented pool of individuals such as the 56-times capped captain Mehdi Benatia or the highly-rated prospect Hakim Ziyech, who’s coming off from a highly successful season with Ajax.
Morocco manager Herve Renard will field his strongest side possible for the opening match, knowing it could be the only chance of winning any points in the group stage.
The likes of Benatia, Ziyech and Nordin Amrabat, the Watford flop who spent the 2017/18 season on loan at Leganes, are likely to lead the line against Iran.
The Iranian national team returns to the World Cup stage for its fifth overall appearance at the competition. It’s also the first time in history that Iran made it to the tournament consecutively and the atmosphere inside the Iran camp could not be better despite the tough group they’ve been thrown in.
Led by the former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz, Iran breezed through the qualifying and managed to establish themselves as the top team from Asia. a period of stability under the Portuguese tactician has benefited the team greatly and 12 clean sheets during the qualifying stage are definitely a proof of that. Iran became the second team to book the Russian visa, behind Brazil, but their preparations for the tournament have been disrupted by some unexpected distractions, such as Nike’s refusal to supply boots to Iran players due to the US sanctions against the country.
Iran will be without defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, who is suspended for the opening match.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Saman Ghoddos, Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi are all raring to go and will be keen to extend their fine form of late.
Key Factors to Consider
- Both Morocco and Iran will take part in their fifth World Cup appearance
- The Atlas Lions return to the World Cup stage after two decades
- Morocco qualified for the World Cup without conceding a goal
- Iran managed 12 clean sheets during the World Cup qualifiers
- The Iranians were second behind Brazil to book their World Cup ticket
Morocco and Iran are coming off from a strong qualifying, but the World Cup itself is an entirely different story. The two nations are considered major underdogs in a group that contains Spain and Portugal. With both sides in a desperate need of three points we feel that pressure will be too great for both sides to go past a dull, goalless draw.
Best Odds: 37/19
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