ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — An own-goal in the fifth minute of injury time gifted Iran a 1-0 victory over Morocco on Friday at the World Cup.
Only on the field as a 77th-minute substitute, Morocco striker Aziz Bouhaddouz dived to reach a curling cross from the left but headed the ball past his own goalkeeper.
While Bouhaddouz buried his face in the turf and was consoled by some teammates, there was an explosion of joy among the Iran squad as coaching staff and substitutes sprinted onto the field and jumped for joy.
It was Iran’s second win in 13 matches at the World Cup, and Asia’s first since the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
With Spain and Portugal the other teams in Group B, the match in St. Petersburg was regarded as a must-win game for the two outsiders.
It was always likely to be a low-scoring match, considering the teams’ defensive records in qualifying. Morocco didn’t concede in six matches in African qualifying, while Iran kept nine straight clean sheets before letting in two goals in its final qualifier — by which time Carlos Queiroz’s team was already guaranteed a place at a second straight World Cup.
After an open first half when both teams created chances, the action became almost as dull as the droning noise from the air horns that swarmed the St. Petersburg Stadium. It revived memories of the vuvuzelas that were the soundtrack of the World Cup in South Africa.
Before the late goal, Iran striker Sardar Azmoun wasted the best chance when played clean through just before halftime. He didn’t live up to his nickname, fondly used back home, of the “Iranian Lionel Messi” when he got the ball caught in his feet and saw his weak shot saved.
Hakim Ziyech was billed as Morocco’s most dangerous attacker, but the winger floated in and out of the game and embarrassingly missed an attempted shot completely when teed up for an early chance at the edge of the area.
Iran would likely secure a first ever place in the knockout stage at a World Cup by beating Spain on Wednesday, though Queiroz is expected to play for a draw in Kazan.
As for the Moroccans, they cannot afford another slip-up against Portugal in Moscow on the same day.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Morocco was most dangerous on the wings, through Ziyech on the right and Amine Harit on the left, during its strong start to the game.
Omid Ebrahimi did a crucial job as a marauding shield in Iran’s midfield, protecting what was already the strongest international defense in Asia.
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