Morocco vs Iran
Morocco and Iran have a chance to take the early advantage in Group B when they kick off their World Cup 2018 campaign at Saint Petersburg Stadium.
The two nations are odds-on for an early exit in the group stage with Spain and Portugal drawn with them. However, with their match-up starting first, the Atlas Lions and Team Melli have an opportunity to put pressure on the two favourites—especially if the La Furia Roja or The Navigators take a defeat in their opening game.
Morocco are currently 41st in the FIFA men’s rankings while Iran are 37th, so it’s no wonder why they are considered minnows in Group B. But make no mistake, these two have proven that they belong on the grandest stage of football.
The Atlas Lions qualified for the FIFA event for the first time in 20 years, topping a strong qualifying group that includes Ivory Coast and the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-led Gabon national team.
More amazingly, they finished the CAF qualifiers as the only team not to concede a single goal in the third round—a clear proof of their solid defending.
Coach Herve Renard has indeed brought discipline to the squad and has created a brand of football based on rock-solid defence and up-tempo offence—something which should allow them to make life hard for Iran (or even Spain and Portugal).
Meanwhile, Iran head to Russia as the best team from the Asian Confederation. They went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds to become the second nation to qualify for the summer tournament in Russia.
They have also now qualified in back-to-back World Cup tournaments for the first time in their history, which shows they have the advantage against Morocco when it comes to experience.
For what it’s worth, this is the first time Morocco mastermind Renard will be managing in the World Cup, while Iran boss Carlos Queiroz is in his second with Iran.
Besides their brilliant performances to make it to this stage, it’s also worth noting that both teams have capable players who can change the flow of the game and deliver positive World Cup 2018 results.
For Iran, it’s 23-year-old Sardar Azmoun who has already bagged 23 goals in 33 appearances for the national team. Well, he won’t be referred to as the “Iranian Messi” if he isn’t that good!
Azmoun, who scored the lone goal in their 1-0 friendly win over Lithuania last week, is touted as the successor of the team’s all-time top scorer Ali Daei. Despite the pressure, however, he is certainly up for the task given that he has shown a knack for scoring on big games.
For Morocco, they have Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia who brings them top-level experience and veteran wits at the centre-back post. He was pivotal in helping Morocco keep that clean slate in the final stretch of their qualifiers.
Additionally, there’s Fenerbahce winger Nabil Dirar. A versatile midfielder that can score and create plays, Dirar was a key member of a Monaco team that won the Ligue 1 title in the 2016-17 campaign.
Morocco and Iran have never faced in a competitive match, so it’s pretty much impossible to predict how they will play against each other.
When it comes to performances in the World Cup, the two don’t have a good history as well. In fact, Morocco have made it out of the group stage just once (in the 1986 edition of the tournament), while Iran are yet to make it to the knockout phase.
Interestingly, in Iran’s 12 games across four World Cup appearances, they managed to win only once. And you have to dig all the way back to 1998 to find their sole victory, a 2-1 win against the USA.
Morocco, on the other hand, haven’t won an opening game in the competition, losing twice and drawing the other two in four World Cup berths. However, it should be remembered they are currently on an 18-game winning streak—the third longest run in international football only behind Spain and Belgium— raising hopes that their bad (and old) habit is dead.
What are the odds?
Despite Iran being the higher-rated team, SBOBET considers them as the underdogs in the match-up, no thanks to their recent defeat to Turkey.
Based on our World Cup 2018 betting odds, Team Melli are at 1X2 @ 3.40 while Morocco are slightly favoured at 1X2 @ 2.25.
Moreover, considering that both teams are solid defensively, the game isn’t expected to be a high-scoring affair. In fact, Over 2.00 pays at 2.21, while Under 2.00 is at odds of 1.72.
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.
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