Iran has recorded their first World Cup victory in 20 years from a 95th-minute own goal which consigned Morocco to a 1-0 defeat in this afternoon’s Group B opener.
It seemed as though two teams who had relied upon their defensive records all through the qualifiers had canceled each other out until Aziz Bouhaddouz miscued his headed clearance deep into stoppage time in Saint-Petersberg.
A draw wouldn’t have been good enough for either side as they seek to upset the odds in a group which also contains Spain and Portugal, but it was the least that Morocco deserved having dominated the match for long periods.
Herve Renard’s side started brilliantly and had a constant outlet down the right through ex Watford winger Nordin Amrabat. While the supply line was there at the start, their finishing lacked conviction as both Amine Harit and Ayoub El Kaabi dragged shots wide.
Morocco’s best chance fell to Juventus defender Medhi Benatia, who stabbed the ball towards goal during an 18th-minute penalty-box scramble, only to be denied by a combination of Ramin Rezaeian and goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Once Iran settled into the match, the organization that helped them keep 14 clean sheets in 18 qualifiers quelled the early Morocco threat, and Carlos Quieroz’s side even created a few chances of their own before the break.
The late twist ended Morocco’s 18-match unbeaten run and spells danger for their World Cup campaign with two European heavyweights still to come.
In the meantime, Iran are the unlikely early leaders of the toughest group at the World Cup, following only their second ever win at the Finals.