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Analysis: Gritty IR Iran grab late win against Morocco

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saint Petersburg: Islamic Republic of Iran recorded the first win for Asian teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup courtesy of a late own goal from Moroccan defender Aziz Bouhaddouz. 

Morocco's Nordin Amrabat tussles for the ball with IR Iran's Ehsan Hajsafi.

Team Melli showed lots of grit and determination to overcome a talented Morocco side in their opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign on Friday.

Having not been able to create many chances, IR Iran were made to wait until the dying seconds to grab a winner as Ehsan Hajsafi's cross from a free-kick was sent into the back of the net by Bouhaddouz's misdirected flying header.

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Slow start gives way to solid performance

Carlos Queiroz's men were left chasing shadows in the opening 15 minutes as Morocco came racing out of the blocks and hammered the Iranian box with quick fire attacks.

Full-backs Ramin Rezaeian and Hajsafi struggled to cope with their opposite numbers, with the Moroccans sending diagonal passes into the wings. Only a combination of poor finishing and last-ditch blocks kept the score level as the North African side registered six shots inside the first third of an hour.

IR Iran slowly grew into the match, keeping more of the ball and pressing their opponents higher up the pitch. By the end of the first half, they had recorded nine shots, one more than Morocco (see above shots map), but there would still be no goals at either end.

Azmoun misfiring

Sardar Azmoun was touted as Iran’s biggest hope ahead of the World Cup, and against Morocco, the 23-year-old was expected to deliver the goals. Instead, the striker was dormant for extended spells during the game, partly due to a shortage in service from his teammates.

Azmoun waited for 26 minutes to attempt his first effort, which was so far off target it ended out for a throw-in. His only other shot was in fact Iran’s most dangerous all night; with five minutes left in the opening half, Vahid Amiri broke free on the counter and found Azmoun who moved clear on goal, but fluffed his lines, sending the ball straight into goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi.

Team Melli’s ineffectiveness up front was highlighted by one key stat. Queiroz’s men became the first team since 1966 to score a goal in a half of World Cup football without attempting a single shot on goal.

Asymmetric setup for IR Iran

Queiroz employed a flat back-four against Morocco, with full-backs Rezaeian and Hajsafi discouraged from romping forward, instead remaining largely in line with their centre-back teammates.

Omid Ebrahimi anchored the midfield, sitting just in front of the defence, while Masoud Shojaei and Karim Ansarifard pushed forward, as high as the lone centre-forward Azmoun at times.

Vahid Amiri and Alireza Jahanbakhsh were tasked with stretching the pitch on either side, with the latter taking more advanced positions down the right. In the defensive phase, the defence moved narrower, forming a compact unit as the wingers and wide midfielders dropped deeper to defend on the flanks.

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