19:00 BST, Wednesday 20th June, Kazan Arena, (Kazan), ITV
Iran’s first World Cup win in 20 years was gifted to them via a late own goal from Moroccan defender Aziz Bouhaddouz in a game played out against a soundtrack of Vuvuzelas.
Having won their must-win game, the Iranians must now take on tournament second favourites Spain who impressed in Friday night’s 3-3 draw with neighbours Portugal.
Spain’s tournament began under a cloud following the last minute dismissal of their coach Julen Lopetegui and they looked rattled during the first minutes of their opener. A penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo acted as a wake-up call as fans were treated to a stunning 90 minutes of football.
Last Time Out
Morocco 0-1 Iran
After dominating possession and creating the most chances, Morocco may feel a little aggrieved to have come away from this game empty-handed. But with the scores level in injury time, Iran weren’t content to settle for a draw.
With the game entering the fifth minute of added time, they won a free kick wide on the left. Trying to clear Ehsan Hajsafi’s cross, defender Bouhaddouz inadvertently powered the ball into his own net.
Iran celebrated their first World Cup win since 1998 and finished the evening clear at the top of Group B.
Read more on Iran’s smash-and-grab victory HERE.
Having offered little in attack, it was apt that Iran’s goal came via the head of an opponent. However, they must be credited for pushing right to the end when everyone else in the stadium seemed to have accepted the outcome.
It wasn’t a great contest – at times ill-tempered and scrappy – but viewers were rewarded with a moment of drama that could have a big impact on the final group standings.
Portugal 3-3 Spain
When Spain were drawn in the same group as Portugal, this was marked as one of the must-see games of the group stages, and it didn’t disappoint.
Portugal set out to rattle their opponents, whose focus had been disrupted by the mid-week sacking of the man who had guided them to Russia.
It took just three minutes for Cristiano Ronaldo to open the scoring from the penalty spot having drawn a foul from Nacho. With the gauntlet thrown down, Spain responded as one of the great World Cup group matches unfolded.
Read more on a Diego Costa-inspired Spain performance HERE.
Despite their distractions, Spain marvelled, evoking memories of the 2008 to 2012 glory years, Isco drawing praise for a stunning second-half display.
They twice came from behind to lead 3-2 – with Diego Costa scoring twice, followed by a Nacho stunner – before Ronaldo had the last word, wrapping up a hat-trick with his first World Cup free-kick goal from 44 attempts.
Iran’s defensive prowess was on display against Morocco and their best hope here will be to frustrate Spain by sitting deep and soaking up the inevitable pressure. They managed just 32% possession against Morocco and that figure could be even lower on Wednesday.
As a result, Carlos Queiroz could deploy a 4-1-4-1 formation with Sardar Azmoun occupying a lone role up front. Midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi is available after suspension to give the coach another option. However, he is likely to start on the bench.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh faces a late fitness test after being stretchered off with severe cramp at the end of the first game.
Interim boss Fernando Hierro opted for an attacking 4-3-3 lineup against Portugal and after an impressive display, is likely to field the same XI here.
Dani Carvajal has fully recovered from a muscular injury and will look to reclaim his position at right-back. However, he has not played football for 25 days and may have to be content with an appearance from the bench.
The only change Hierro could make is bringing in Thiago Alcantara for either Koke or Andres Iniesta.
Key Battle: Sardar Azmoun (Iran) vs Diego Costa (Spain)
While Friday’s own goal handed them a welcome three points, Iran would love nothing more than to see one of their own players find the net. Their best hope lies with Sardar Azmoun, who was prolific during qualifying but spent much of Friday’s game isolated.
It will be the same story here as Iran put nine men behind the ball, relying on Azmoun as their only outlet. Chances will be few, but he is capable in front of goal and will look to pounce when Spain commit bodies forward.
Diego Costa removed any lingering doubts about the merit of his place in this Spanish XI with his performance on Friday night. He will be tasked with breaking through the tough Iran defensive line as Spain look to secure a place in the last 16.
He provided the finishing touch to two very different goals, one from outside of the box after using his bullish strength to latch on to a long ball, and one from close range after a knock down from a free-kick.
Are Spain favourites now?
With Germany losing to Mexico, Argentina drawing against Iceland and Brazil being held by Switzerland, many believe Spain are now tournament favourites.
Yes, they drew their opener, but it was against the European champions featuring an in-form Ronaldo and came on the back of a week that would have crushed many teams. Also, they played the most scintillating football the tournament has seen so far.
Brazil still lead the betting but that could all change after this game.
Can Iran score again?
Having secured three points in the opening game, Iran have given themselves a slim chance of progressing to the last-16. However, with games against Spain and Portugal to come, a more realistic target will be to score another goal in the tournament.
Sardar Azmoun will lead the line, but their chances of scoring could rest on teammate Alireza Jahanbakhsh. The AZ Alkmaar man had to be carried off the pitch after suffering from cramp last time out and will face a race against time to be fit for this clash.
His attacking support from the wing will be vital as Iran look to hit Spain on the break. A goal in this game would mark a historic achievement for Team Melli.
Prediction: Iran 0-3 Spain
Iran will defend with heart and soul, but it is a stretch to imagine them shutting out the former champions for 90 minutes. Spain are used to facing banks of defenders and know what it takes to break down such barricades.
The first goal will be key. If it comes early for Spain, the floodgates could open, but if Iran can hold on until half-time, the nerves might play a part.
Either way, Spain should prevail by a two or three-goal margin to book their place in the Round of 16.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 5 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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