Stoppage-time winner gives Iran win over Morocco
Amine Harit (Getty Images)
Saint Petersburg - Iran's players stormed the pitch at full-time as if they had won the World Cup rather than just their opening match after an own goal from Morocco's Aziz Bouhaddouz gifted them a dramatic 1-0 victory on Friday.
Wasteful finishing looked to have consigned this compelling contest
at the Saint Petersburg Stadium to a goalless draw but Bouhaddouz's
mistake in injury-time means Iran emerge as the early challengers to
Spain and Portugal in Group B.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, once of Real Madrid and Manchester United,
insisted the chaos that has engulfed Spain this week offered no boost
to these teams' chances, but this victory certainly cranks the pressure
up a notch.
"Superman is only in the cartoons," Queiroz said. "Nobody is
superman. What can happen once in a while is when a group of people are
united, can create super stories and super things."
When Bouhaddouz nodded in at the near post, Iran's substitutes could
not resist rushing onto the field and when the final whistle blew
moments later they were sprinting over again in delight.
Morocco should at least take heart from a blistering first half an
hour, during which their zip and zest made them virtually unplayable.
But Hakim Ziyach, Ayoub El Kaabi and Mehdi Benatia all failed to
"I am very disappointed," their coach, Herve Renard, said. "I think
if I would have come to this press conference with a draw I would also
have been disappointed given how the game played out."
But Iran showed the same grit that had frustrated Argentina for 91
minutes four years ago and while Lionel Messi was the difference that
day, this time it was their turn to snatch a last-gasp winner.
Their build-up had not been smooth. Nike had blocked the players'
supply of boots and friendlies against Greece and Kosovo were cancelled.
It gave Queiroz good reason for
positioning his team as outsiders but they now head into the match
against Spain on Wednesday both with a winning feeling and hope.
"If the game against Morocco was the World Cup final for us, the game
against Spain will be the Universe Cup final," Queiroz said.
Morocco's fans, at a World Cup for the first time in 20 years, belted
out their own national anthem and then applauded Iran's, the
67,000-seater arena buzzing with the hum of vuvuzelas in a throwback to
the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The only shame was the large number of empty seats, with many
supporters still queueing to get through security 15 minutes before
Morocco started brilliantly, hounding Iran and swarming forward with
such ferocity that on the line, Queiroz spent most of the opening 20
minutes urging his players to pause and take a breath.
The onslaught finally eased after half an hour and by the interval
Iran had not only survived but finished the stronger, Sardar Azmoun, the
"Iranian Messi", spurning a one-on-one after a scintillating break.
Perhaps tired from the first period or, more likely, reminded of
their defensive duties during the interval, both teams were more cagey
after the restart.
Queiroz and Renard were involved in a touchline scuffle, quickly resolved, before the real drama arrived in the 95th minute.
Bouhaddouz could not see what was behind him when a whipped free-kick
came in from the left and he panicked, diving to the ball, and heading
it agonisingly inside his own near post.