This will be the first encounter of Group B and if either side aspires to get through to the knockout stages then this is a must win game. Based on our ranking system, Morocco are actually ranked higher (33rd) than Iran (24th) but they go off as clear favourites due their much stronger from coming in and greater quality within their squad.
Since qualification, Iran have gone W7-D1-L2 from their 10 international friendlies, but only three of these were against sides ranked inside the top 50 and the two of these that took place since the turn of the year both ended in defeat – versus Tunisia and Turkey. Moreover, they’ll be without their star midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, who’s banned for the first game and he missed those recent defeats against Tunisia and Turkey, whereas Iran haven’t lost any of the 24 matches when he’s been on the pitch.
In contrast, the Atlas Lions will have a full-strength side out and enter these finals off the back of an 18-game unbeaten run since the start of qualification, and having won four of five unbeaten matches in 2018, including against superior opposition in Serbia, Morocco look excellent value to beat this Iranian side.
In 2014, Iran went almost 180 minutes without conceding in the group stages until Lionel Messi broke the dead-lock and we expect a similar approach again. Carlos Queiroz likes to hold a deep line and hit their opposition on the counter and it was successful during qualification with the concession of just two goals from 10 games. However, their style doesn’t make for very open affairs and seven of these qualifiers had no more than one strike so we’re leaning towards a 1-0 scoreline in Morocco’s favour.
Herve Renard has a fully fit quad to choose from but there is no doubting who the star man is. Hakim Ziyech was player of the season in Eredivisie and already has a decent strike rate of eight in 15 for his country. He’s going to be the best player on the pitch and could be the one to make the difference in a game of fine margins.