Iran began its game against Morocco with the deployment of four defenders, one defensive halfback, four midfield halfbacks and one striker. Alireza Biranvand was in goal. Ramin Rezaian, Ehsan Hajsafi, Morteza Pouraliganji and Rouzbeh Cheshmi formed Iran’s defensive line. Omid Ebrahimi was Iran’s sole defensive halfback and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Masoud Shojaei and Vahid Amiri were midfielders. Sardar Azmoun was the sole striker. And that was Iran’s National Football Team.
The game started with a big offensive from Morocco. In the first five minutes Morocco created three serious situations for Iran. It appeared as though Carlos Queiroz had ordered his team to hold back for the first 15 minutes, perhaps to discover Morocco’s game plan. Morocco's strikers launched their attack on the right wing and Iran’s left defender Ehsan Hajsafi and the left defensive midfielder Rouzbeh Cheshmi bore most of the pressure.
At the 18th minute, Iran’s goal came close to collapse. There was a bustle inside Iran’s penalty zone and Iranian defenders had to block successive kicks by Moroccan strikers. Eventually, it was Alireza Biranvand who saved the goal.
Iran got its first chance at the 20th minute. In the counterattack, Sardar Azmoun created an optimum situation for Karim Ansarifard, but the ball did not touch Ansarifard’s foot in the right way. A few minutes later, and little by little, Iran went forward defensively and took the game in hand, even though Morocco was still dangerous. As the 30th minute approached, Iran’s concentration on the centerfield increased. Then, Iran seized the ball from its competitor.
“A Ball for Morocco, A Field for Iran”
Shedding the defensive stance was exactly what Queiroz wanted for the last 30 minutes of the first half. Following the idea of “a ball for Morocco, a field for Iran,” Queiroz tried to control the game until the end of the first half. It was a joy to watch Masoud Shojaei in the centerfield.
Iran lost its best chance to score at the 43rd minute. Sardar Azmoun could have passed the ball to Vahid Amiri but instead his kick hit the foot of the Moroccan goalkeeper. Jahanbakhsh kicked the deflected ball but it ended up in the corner. The halftime that had started with trepidation slowly came to life, and this could have been a dream-come-true moment for Iran.
Contrary to expectations, Iran did not allow its competitor to control the game in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Instead, it endeavored to control the game and push forward. Neither did Morocco show much inclination to invade the Iranian goal. In the meantime, Omid Ebrahimi played an amazing game in the centerfield. His tackles, his ball steals, and his jumps for headers — they were all signs of him becoming the best player on the field. But, at the same time, Sardar Azmoun was losing his grip. In the first 15 minutes the battle took place in the centerfield.
At the 66th minute, Queiroz replaced Shojaei. He left the field and gave his captain armband to the next member in line, to Ehsan Hajsafi. Both captains had been under attack since August 2017 because they had dared to play for the Greek team Panionios against Israeli team Maccabi in a qualifying match for the Europa League. So it was important and significant to see both men on the field for this first game.
Little by little, Iran took the ball and the field, away from Morocco. When figures about the match are published, it will show that until the 70th minute, Vahid Amiri ran 8.5 kilometers — more than any other player. Queiroz had believed that Amiri and Ebrahimi were not prepared for the World Cup but, as it turned out, they proved to be among the best.
Tearing Up the Playbook
An injury forced Ebrahimi to leave the field. This not only played havoc with Queiroz’s playbook, it also enabled Morocco to take control of the game. Then it was Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s turn to leave the field because of an injury, and he was replaced by Saman Ghoddos. Jahanbakhsh’s injury was quite serious and he might even lose the chance to play against Spain.
Morocco advanced and Iran retreated. The Moroccan advance included ferocious attacks on Iran. But six minutes were wasted and, for Iran, this was as good as gold.
At the 94th minute, officials announced a fault against Saman Ghoddos, and Iran got the chance for a free kick. Ehsan Hajsafi kicked the ball. The Moroccan defender Aziz Bouhaddouz dove for a header, and the ball went straight into the corner of his team's net.
So it was a miracle that Iran won its first game at the 2018 World Cup. And it was Iran’s first World Cup match victory since 1998.
More about Iran at the 2018 World Cup:
Iran vs. Morocco: The First Challenge, June 14, 2018
Decoding Iran’s Politics: Football and State Interference, June 11, 2018
Iranian Football and US Sanctions, June 13, 2018
One Day to go Until the World Cup, June 12, 2018
Get to Know Iran’s 2018 World Cup Team, June 7, 2018
Football Star Azizi Discusses the 2018 World Cup, May 31, 2018
Iran Is Going to the World Cup!, June13, 2017