Vahid Amiri of Iran and Karim El Ahmadi of Morocco reach for the ball. (Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Iran 1, Morocco 0

Group B, St. Petersburg (Krestovsky) Stadium, St. Petersburg

After a tortured and groggy 94 minutes in St. Petersburg, Iran’s offense awoke in added time to force a Morocco own goal, stealing a 1-0 victory in the teams’ World Cup opener.

Team Melli largely played on its back foot the entire match, thwarting Morocco’s mediocre offensive chances and relying on the counterattack. But none of those run-outs yielded any scoring, and Iran mustered two shots on goal for the entire contest.

But a late Moroccan foul gave Iran a free kick from the left wing four minutes into added time. A sweeping cross from Ehsan Hajsafi missed its target, Mehdi Torabi, but found the head of Atlas Lions’ forward Aziz Bouhaddouz. The shocking goal gave Iran just its second-ever World Cup win, and first since 1998.

The win for Team Melli means a critical three points toward advancing to the knockout stage out of Group B, which also includes world powers Spain and Portugal.


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What’s next

Portugal vs. Spain: Rivals meet again on biggest stage

Complete World Cup schedule and TV listings

Morocco: vs. Portugal, in Moscow, June 20.

Iran: vs. Spain in Kazan, June 20.

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In-game updates

Goal Iran!

It took 94 minutes and change, and finally a burst of offense from Iran. A set piece from Iran sent so many bodies forward that Moroccan defender Aziz Bouhaddouz headed the ball into his own goal.

Finally, a scoring chance

We’ve seen a lot of bumbling offense and a lot of pretty good defense. And then finally the Atlas Lions generated some momentum and Alireza Beiranvand fought off the shot. It is still scoreless in St. Petersburg in the 84th minute.

Morocco substitute: Amrabat for Amrabat

Nordin Amrabat was tackled during a high-speed chase for the ball coming down the wing and looked to have smacked his head on the turf. Trainers came and took him off. Sofyan Amrabat replaced him in the midfield.

Iran substitute: Torabi for Shojaei

The move comes in the 68th minute and works twofold for Team Melli: Shojaei had done a lot of defending in the first hour of the match and Iran could use some fresh legs; the substitution also protects Shojaei from another disqualifying yellow card.

Yellow card to Iran’s Jahanbakhsh

Alireza Jahanbakhsh collided spikes up with a Moroccan midfielder in the 47th minute. The referee showed no delay in showing a yellow card.

A scoreless tie at the half

Morocco opened aggressively with two offensive pushes that were very promising. A set piece off a corner kick yielded two great scoring chances. Then a free kick opened up a few more, including three shots from within 10 yards of the net that were blocked down.

Toward the end of the first 45 minutes, though, Iran looked like the much more comfortable side. Team Melli’s defense weathered the Atlas Lions’ best efforts. Iran’s counterattacks were strong and twice they had numerical advantages headed into the attacking half before Morocco took some well-timed fouls.

Morocco needs to make some offensive adjustments at the half to make Iran’s defense feel uncomfortable and open up more space in the offensive zone. For Iran, it seems like only a matter of time before its offense can break through and open the scoring.

History in the broadcaster’s booth

Former U.S. women’s national team veteran Aly Wagner is the color commentator in this match for FOX, which makes her the first woman to broadcast a men’s World Cup game on American television. So far, Wagner has shown a fair amount of knowledge on both teams and has shown clear expertise on the game’s tactics.

Morocco’s El Ahmadi gets yellow card

Frankly, it wasn’t a horrible foul to take. Iran was out a counterattack and had a three-on-two opportunity. Karim El Ahmadi caught up to the Iranian forward with the ball and took out his back foot, stopping the attack. Team Melli’s free kick taker airmailed his chance on goal. Still scoreless in St. Petersburg.

More tremendous Moroccan chances

Off a free kick in the 19th minute, the Atlas Lions were knocking on Team Melli’s doorstep with three shots from within 10 yards of the goal. A Moroccan forward headed the original ball back to a waiting attacker who fired a shot that deflected wide. Morocco had two rebound chances that were each stuffed by the Iranian defense. No score yet, but Morocco is still clearly on its front foot.

Yellow card for Iran’s Shojaei

Team Melli defender Masoud Shojaei was given the game’s first yellow card in the 10th minute. Morocco was starting a run in the midfield and Shojaei was late with a tackle.

Morocco off to aggressive start

The Atlas Lions earned the match’s first corner and ran a nifty set piece that looked promising. Instead of playing a high cross near the goal, the ball was sent low to the top of the 18-yard box, where a defender had a chance to run up on the ball for a shot on goal. He whiffed on the shot, but another cross in yielded another corner kick. A very good start indeed for Morocco.

Starting lineups 

No big surprises for either side here. There’s quite a bit of chatter on the FOX Sports set and online about the match after this one (Portugal vs. Spain), but don’t overlook the importance of this game. If one of these teams can pull out a win (three points) and then draw the remaining two (two more points), that could be enough to advance.

Team profiles

Morocco

  • Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 1998.
  • Best finish: Round of 16, 1986.
  • Notable: Morocco has the fewest native-born players in the tournament. More of its players were born in France (eight) than in the North African kingdom.
  • FIFA world ranking: 41. ELO world ranking: 35.

Iran

  • Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 2014.
  • Best finish: Group stage, four times.
  • Notable: Iranian players will not wear Nike equipment during the tournament because of American sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
  • FIFA world ranking: 37. ELO world ranking: 21.

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