Morocco vs. Iran, 11 a.m. ET, FOX
- Morocco: +125
- Iran: +287
- Draw: +197
Bet To Watch
Draw Half-time/Morocco Full-time +373 Bookmaker
While the meeting between former World champions Spain and reigning European champions Portugal will steal focus for many reasons from the opening round of World Cup fixtures, it’s the other match in Group B that is arguably the most pivotal to both sides involved.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that this match between the Atlas Lions and the Lions of Persia is the most important match from game week one in Russia in relation to qualifying for the knockout phase. The odds on these two sides to escape Group B — which has been billed as a nightmare group for underdogs — are incredibly high for both nations, although a victory in what is surely a must-win opener could see a significant slash in the respective team’s price.
Neither squad should be underestimated, reaching the tournament due to sound defensive organization above anything else, but both boast weapons that could help spring a surprise. In fact, the key battle in this one could well be an all-Eredivisie-affair, with two of the Dutch top-flight’s best players set to go head-to-head.
Iran’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh should play from the right of coach Carlos Queiroz’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation having led the scoring charts in the Netherlands last season with 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar. He may well come up against Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech on that flank in a similar set up. Ziyech finished the Eredivisie campaign as the league’s top creator with 15 assists. The figures of both prove that while neither side have been given much hope of reaching the Round of 16 in the odds, both have genuine quality at their disposal.
The issue for the attacking talents on either team is that there is so much at stake in this first game that the two coaches will want to ensure they don’t leave too many spaces on the counter with a defeat that would, in all likelihood, end their dreams of upsetting the odds before they have even truly begun. As such, one can expect a very nervy first half and goalmouth action to be at a premium between two sides that know how to shut their opponents down.
However, while this is a match Morocco or Iran can’t afford to lose, a draw would be a disappointing outcome for both coaches, too, leaving the likely necessity to beat either Spain or Portugal. I’d expect a clichéd game of two halves as a consequence, with the two teams beginning to open up after the interval and far more opportunities for the likes of Ziyech and Jahanbakhsh to impose themselves.
In terms of form ahead of the tournament, it took a 90th-minute penalty for Iran to find a consolation goal against Turkey late last month and an 88th-minute strike to earn an unconvincing 1-0 win over lowly Lithuania even more recently. Morocco have found goals easier to come by of late — and against stronger opposition in some cases — and my bet would be on the Africans to put the pressure on Spain and Portugal’s meeting later on Friday.
Herve Renard’s side have the greater quality and competition throughout their squad after all, and substitutes could be key in what seems destined to be a tight and low-scoring match that may well be decided late.