When the draw for the 2018 World Cup was made in December, Morocco’s chances of escaping Group B was relatively slim.
This is Morocco’s first World Cup finals since 1998 and Herve Renard’s side have been grouped with Euro 2016 winners Portugal and pre-tournament favourites Spain.
While Iberian rivals Spain and Portugal battle it out on Friday night, Morocco will have the opportunity to take an early lead in Group B when they host minnows Iran.
Renard has established a reputation as something of an iconic figure in Africa. The 49-year-old is the only coach to have won the Africa Cup of Nations with two different nations and now he has the chance to impress on the biggest stage.
Morocco secured their place in the World Cup against one of Renard’s former teams, Ivory Coast, and are the only nation at the finals that did not concede a goal in the final phase of qualifying.
This should stand then in good stead against the likes of Spain and Portugal, particularly with captain and Juventus defender Medhi Benatia at the back for the Atlas Lions.
In attack the burden of creativity will heavily fall on the shoulders of Hakim Ziyech, who has finished each of the last two Eredivisie campaigns as the WhoScored Player of the Season, averaging an impressive rating of 8.01 in that period.
His opposite number on Friday will be Eredivisie rival Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who finished last season as the second highest WhoScored rated player (8.20).
The 24-year-old played a direct hand in 33 goals in 33 league games for AZ Alkmaar last season and is one of very view notable names for Iran, who are managed by former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.
Iran are gearing up for their fifth appearance at a World Cup finals, but their track record does not inspire any confidence, even more so when you consider their opponents in Group B.
Queiroz’s side have only won one of their previous 12 matches at the World Cup and have only scored seven goals in that time. With Sardar Azmoun, once nicknamed the Iranian Messi, in their ranks this time around that could change but it’s unlikely.
The Rubin Kazan striker, who is making his World Cup debut this summer, has a phenomenal international record of 23 goals in 32 caps for Iran.
However, for Morocco, this is the World Cup opener they would have hoped for. A comprehensive showing against Iran on Friday will get points on the board and give them confidence going into their last two group matches.
It’s also worth noting that four of the last six European champions have failed to make it out of the group stages in the subsequent World Cup, which bodes well for Morocco.
Martin Laurence - Morocco 1-0 Iran
Ben McAleer - Morocco 1-0 Iran
Josh Wright - Morocco 1-0 Iran