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World Cup: Iran, Morocco aim to impress in opener (Preview)

IANS  |  Sochi 

Having failed to progress beyond the group stages in their previous appearances, Asian giants will aim to rewrite history when they face in a Group B match of the here on Friday.

Having first played at in 1978, have made three appearances since then -- 1998, 2006 and 2014. However, they have never progressed beyond the group stages, managing only a lone win, against bitter rivals US in 1998.

have also qualified for after a gap of 20 years. Their last appearance was at 1998 when they progressed to the second round.

Both sets of players will thus be eager to put their best foot forward when they march out onto the Saint Petersburg Stadium pitch on Friday.

A strong defence is Iran's main strength and Morocco's strikers will be tested when they face a team which plays possession-based and also presses aggressively in defence.

and central defender and right back have prior World Cup experience, having played at the 2014 edition while Voria Ghafouri -- who can be employed as a or a full back -- is also a veteran in the team.

also have a wealth of talent upfront with several players plying their trade in the European leagues.

Sardar Azmoun, a 23-year-old striker hailed as the "Iranian Messi", who plays for Russian club Rubin Kazan, already has 23 goals for his country, including an amazing 11-goal haul during the Asian qualifiers.

Other Iran strikers of and of Dutch outfit Heerenveen have also played at

Their partnership with Azmoun could create problems for the defence.

This match will be a golden chance for Iran to make their mark and to have some points with European Champions Portugal and World Cup favourites likely to provide a much sterner test in what is a tough group.

Morocco, on the other hand, will be well-rounded by Juventus centre-back Medhi Benatia which will help the team to organise a proper defence structure.

Further forward, 25-year-old is the fulcrum of Morocco's attacking play.

The former U-21 international scored nine goals and made a league-leading 15 assists in the Dutch this season, being named Dutch of the Year for his trouble.

Morocco will be looking to his vision and creativity if they are to spring any surprises in

Rising star Achraf Hakimi has just lifted trophy with giants Real Madrid and should be one of the brighter sparks in the Morocco squad.

--IANS

gau-ajb/bg

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, June 14 2018. 21:06 IST
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