Who? Morocco - Iran
Where? Krestovski Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 15, 17:00 ?(CET local time)
The opening whistle of the 2018 World Cup is getting closer, and Group B seems like the most interesting group in the tournament. With Spain cutting coach Julen Lopetegui who signed for Real Madrid, the whole scene looks different now. Morocco, and Iran, will look to snatch their chance for a second round spot, as the match between them on Saturday will be a crucial one.
Morocco is coming in a good shape to this match and is counted as a slightly favourite over the Asian Cheetahs from Iran. Both nations have sent massive amount of fans to Russia. “I came from Morocco, and met here many Moroccans from Belgium, Holland and France”, says Ayoub Fajri, a Moroccan fan from Aghadir. “In Morocco we are excited for this tournament for a long time now”, he continues, “For months now that Casablanca is decorated with World Cup signs. I believe that you will see around 30,000 Moroccan fans here in Russia. Between 8 or 10 thousands arrived from Morocco, the rest from Europe”.
Morocco enjoy the fact that 15 players on the squad are born and raised in European countries, growing up in few of Europe’s best academies. “For me it’s not important whether a player has been born in Morocco, Holland, India, or if he is Jewish or a Muslim. If he loves Morocco, feels Moroccan and he is a good player - we love him and want him on the team”.
Despite having 18 players playing in European clubs - a record in Iranian football history - the Iranians have experienced quite a difficult preparation for the World Cup. The US sanctions regime against the country. The friendlies against Greece, Kosovo and Italy were all cancelled, and the Iranians have only had a chance to play against Uzbekistan and Lithuania - not a great gauge of the skill levels of their rivals in the powerful Group B.
In addition, Nike, the sports brand that represents eight players on the Iranian squad, have reportedly asked their representatives not to wear the company's shoes during the tournament - as part of the US-led sanctions. When politics get involved in football, it's always a complete madhouse - the United States couldn't even qualify for the tournament, but Trump's presence is felt here in Russia.
In any case, the Iranian fans are filling Russia and their positive presence is well felt. Queiroz and his players will receive their support, and hope to beat their direct rival for the group’ surprise. With Alireza Jahanbaksh, the Dutch League top scorer in the line-up it might actually happen.