The 2018 FIFA World Cup Group B kicks off with Morocco taking on Iran in St.Petersburg, and we have the three players to watch out for from this clash.
Morocco and Iran do not have much of a history between them. In fact, they have faced only once before in a competitive game and it would the first time they clash at the World Cup stage. From an outside perspective, either team do not have much of a chance considering the other two sides being Spain and Portugal, but they sure will try.
For both teams, a win in their opening game would represent a momentum gain going into those tough fixtures with Spain and Portugal. To win the game, however, they would need their players to be at their best and get all three points. Here are the three players who could make the difference in this clash –
Medhi Benatia – Morocco
Morocco’s captain and an experienced centre-back by trade, Benatia has been a rock solid presence at the back for his many clubs. Currently, with Juventus, his two seasons in Turin have been a fruitful one, winning the Scudetto twice and getting as far as possible in the Champions League.
Benatia brought his club form into the national team setup for Morocco’s qualifying campaign, and it was quite a success that he and his national colleagues achieved. Going unbeaten through an entire campaign is one thing, conceding not a single goal during that time is an achievement in itself.
Benatia will be hoping he and his colleagues continue this form at the World Cup, and build a platform to advance to the next stage of the tournament. Benatia will want to be the leader of Morocco, not just from the back but to boost their morale and confidence through his immense experience in football.
Sardar Azmoun – Iran
Touted as the ‘Iranian Messi’ due to his likeness to the star Argentine, Azmoun could be compared more to enigmatic former Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to his superior prowess in the air. Azmoun has been the rising star of Iranian football until some years back but has now firmly established himself as one of his nation’s top footballer.
His club form might not reflect on his current popularity in Iran, but the forward has had his moments with the national side of late to take the fan favourite title. While he scored a paltry 5 goals last season in Rubin Kazan colours, the forward has had his say with Iran, with an impressive tally of 23 goals in only 33 appearances.
In Russia, if there is any chance for Iran to get past the group stages, Azmoun will likely play a significant role in it. The hopes of his nations are right now firmly placed on his shoulders, and at this World Cup, irrespective of how Iran performs, he is thought as one of those players who will have a break-through tournament.
Mbark Boussoufa – Morocco
Currently plying his trade with Al Jazira in the UAE, Mbark Boussoufa is one of those veteran stars in the team, who need not be judged by his advanced age or choice of current club. Boussoufa has previously won the Belgian golden boot twice while playing in Belgium and along with Benatia, is one of those crucial leaders a team needs.
While the praises for Morocco have been firmly directed towards their excellent defence during the qualifiers, Boussoufa played a crucial role in organising their midfield and starting attacks. He played a significant role as well during the qualifiers with his leadership and experience in the middle of the park.
In Russia, when Morocco takes on their Group B rivals, he will have to play a crucial role. His presence provides a much-needed balance in this Morocco side, linking the defence and attack expertly. His experience, on the other hand, will be vital to Morocco’s chances at the World Cup, and at 33-years of age, he indeed is the leader of this side.