By Anis Bazza
Last Updated: 20th June 2018
Morocco’s last World Cup team, in 1998, had only two players born outside the country. This year, 17 of the 23-man squad were not born in Morocco. Iran’s squad meanwhile has only one player that was born abroad.
There is a stark difference in the build-up of the two Middle Eastern and North African sides but the objective is the same: Make it out of Group B – the most difficult group in the World Cup.
Alongside Portugal and Spain, Iran and Morocco will have to do the impossible to make it to knock-out rounds. The game between the sides will be crucial if they are to capitalise on any potential slip-ups from their Iberian rivals.
Iran’s coach Carlos Quieroz served as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson for four years before taking the mantle of Iran manager which he has held since 2011. His Russia-based Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun will lead the line for Iran this summer. The 23-year old has 23 goals in 33 appearances for the national side.
While less successful for his Russian club side Rubin Kazan, Azmoun will know his compatriot Alireza Jahanbakhsh can also deliver the goods against a stubborn Morroco side that did not concede a single goal in the entirety of the third round of CAF qualifiers (6 games).
Jahanbakhsh made history this season by becoming the first Asian to finish as top scorer in a European league. His league 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar made him the Eredivisie top scorer, most of which came from wide positions.
Morocco’s imported side boast a strong European core. The players on Morocco’s World Cup team will receive instructions in three languages: English, French, and Arabic. Eight of the squad were born in France, five in the Netherlands, two in Spain, and one each in Canada and Belgium.
Dutch footballer of the year Hakim Ziyech, who has been compared to Christian Eriksen, plys his trade at Ajax and Morroco will hope he will be the key to unlocking an Iranian defence that has conceded only conceded only once in eight qualifying matches.
Anis grew up supporting Manchester City but found joy and solace across Europe’s major football leagues. Increasingly passionate about NBA, he is interested in and has written extensively about different aspects of sport across the years, previously working at Sky Sports News and Sport360 newspaper in Dubai. He studied Journalism at University but spent a large portion of his academic years building City Watch instead - the largest independent Manchester City Twitter account and website.