Morocco’s forward Aziz Bouhaddouz (R) heads the ball and scores an own goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Morocco and Iran at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 15, 2018.
Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
Iran stole victory in St Petersburg with the fourth injury-time goal of a tournament that is just two days old. This one was undoubtedly the cruellest.Moroccan substitute, Aziz Bouhaddouz, put through his own net in the 95th minute of a game his side had largely dominated but failed to find the crucial opening. It sparked scenes of wild, raucous jubilation among the Iranian masses, who had invaded the city, Carlos Queiroz’s side confounding their bottom seeding to jump to the top of Group B.
For a most promising Morocco side, who had swamped the Iranians in the opening half, there was no reward at all. They head back to Moscow to face Portugal and then Spain and will have a hell of a time picking themselves up from this sickening blow.
Even before Spain wrapped themselves up in turmoil, these were two teams who had the potential to provide decent tests of the two European heavyweights they found themselves alongside. Morocco in particular promised plenty on their tournament return.
The country’s last act in a World Cup finals had been to destroy Scotland 3-0 in St Etienne 20 years ago. The intervening two decades have seen something of a revolution in the makeup of the national team.
The squad that departed at the group stage in France contained just two players born outside Morocco. The 23 that pitched up at the Saint Petersburg Stadium contained just four who were born inside their home country.
A concerted recruitment drive across France, the Netherlands and Belgium particularly pulled Morocco’s generation immigration back home. They duly drove their nation back here to the biggest stage.