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hands Iran win against Morocco
Even when the World Cup is bad, you have to watch until the end, because something you will be talking about for years could happen at any moment. Unfortunately for Aziz Bouhaddouz, Morocco might be discussing his injury-time own-goal that gave Iran a 1-0 win in this Group B game for some time to come.
After a promising beginning this had turned
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stultifying, bad-tempered game that not many would have remembered until its unfortunate denouement. The Iran coach Carlos Queiroz’s assertion that it was a “beautiful” match was the sort of thing you say in the afterglow of ecstasy.
That ecstasy arrived as the clock ticked over into the 95th minute: Ehsan Hajsafi swung a free-kick over from the left, and Bouhaddouz – on as a second-half substitute – stooped to head past his own goalkeeper. Afterwards he was in tears.
It was the worst thing that could have happened in injury time,” said the Morocco head coach, Hervé Renard. “We can only blame ourselves. We gave away a free-kick, then we scored against our own team.”
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that his hugely talented team should have taken advantage of an opening spell when they married skill and intensity with so many players – almost too many – looking to swarm forwards and create.
But they could not turn their advantage into goals and, according to Queiroz at least, that was Iran’s plan all along. “Our strategy was to try to create a ‘mental collapse’ in the Morocco players,” he said. “We tried to frustrate them – we tried to block their playmakers.”
It seemed to work, too. The Moroccans looked like they had developed a team-wide knack for making the wrong decision time after time, and it served to create a match that became increasingly grim to watch. A moment late on summed things up, when Hakim Ziyech spread a simple pass to Achraf Hakimi on the left flank, but he averted his gaze and let the ball bobble underneath his foot for a throw.
Iran were not much better: their biggest threat, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, was anonymous: last season the AZ Alkmaar winger became the first Asian player to finish top-scorer of a major European league but he offered little here.
Among the frustration there was a concerning moment with 20 minutes left when Watford’s Nordin Amrabat looked like he was knocked out after Hajsafi’s shoulder crashed into his jaw. His teammates gathered around and immediately looked fretful, as for a few seconds Amarabat did not move. He eventually got to his feet and tried to come back on, but after staggering around and having to be kept upright by the arms of the physios, sense prevailed and he was replaced by his brother, Sofyan.
By the closing stages it looked a game everyone wanted to be over. But then Bouhaddouz intervened, a bullet header into his own net, and the Iranians present burst with joy. Afterwards they stayed on the pitch for a while, drinking in their victory and giving their coach the bumps. Celebrating like they had won the World Cup seemed a little excessive, but as
Queiroz explained afterwards this is a team who have been fighting against the odds.
“We came here without good preparations,” he said, referring to an assortment of issues that have hampered them, from friendlies being called off to international trade sanctions leading to Nike cancelling a boot deal. “To make these difficulties a source of inspiration is something very special.
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