The Atlas Lions had a strong qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, finishing at the top of their group with a 3-3-0 record and a tremendous 11:0 goal difference, ahead of Ivory Coast and Mali. They are undefeated in the previous 16 games overall, recording 11 victories and five stalemates, while in the last three friendly matches, the Atlas Lions have beaten Serbia 2-1 and Uzbekistan 2-0, along with a nil-nil draw against Ukraine. Their fans hope for more positive results this summer in Russia, and the opening game against Iran will be key for Morocco, as a potential win will get them closer to the Round of 16.
The captain Medhi Benatia will be a defensive rock, and his leadership will be essential for Atlas Lions, while the talented playmaker Hakim Ziyech will orchestrate the play from midfield. The skillful attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda is another key player in this Morocco team whose passes could cause a lot of damage in the final third. The striker Khalid Boutaib will lead the frontline, but the fans expect from Ayoub El Kaabi to be the secret weapon in Morocco’s attack. The manager Herve Renard prefers a 4-5-1 formation, seeking for a direct-passing style of play. Renard relies on a sturdy defense, but he always supports his boys to push forward whenever it’s possible.
Team Melli is coming to Russia as a huge +550 out-of-towner to reach the second round, and in the previous four appearances at the FIFA World Cup, Iran has recorded only one victory along with three draws, eight losses and a goal difference of 7:22, failing to qualify for the Round of 16 on all these four occasions. If they want to make that one step further, Iranians will have to beat Morocco in this game, while staying unbeaten is a must or they will be already in dire straits after the first clash of the group stage.
Iran is a hard-working team with exceptional pace, relying on a responsible defense, and they always try to launch quick counter-attacks which is their biggest strength at the offensive end. The head coach Carlos Queiroz is leading Team Melli since 2011, and he could be Iran’s main power. Queiroz is a great tactician who knows how to prepare his team for the biggest stage, as this will be his third World Cup after leading Portugal in 2010, and Iran in 2014, but he has also qualified South Africa for the 2002 World Cup. He mostly prefers a 4-5-1 formation, trying to defend with all ten players, and he’ll probably take the same approach against Atlas Lions.
Group B : Fri 6/5,
15 June 2018