Morocco are playing in their first World Cup finals since 1998 and have never got past the last-16 phase.
Morocco and Iran open the Group B fixtures with a clash at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, and face an unlikely task in progressing through the round as they are still to play the likes of Spain and Portugal.
The two teams have built up impressive form in the run-up to the finals in Russia, however, as Morocco head to the tournament looking to preserve their unbeaten run of 18 games, which is the third longest run for any national team.
Their streak includes victories over Egypt, Nigeria and Serbia which will bolster their chances in Russia. Iran’s qualification campaign was impressive as well, and the two underdogs will face off against each other with hopes of pulling off a major upset in their attempt to dethrone either Spain and/or Portugal.
Morocco and Iran meet for the first time in the World Cup in Friday’s Group B tie in St Petersburg (16:00 BST).
Morocco will be hoping right-back Nabil Dirar is passed fit after he missed his country’s friendlies against Slovakia and Estonia because of a calf injury.
Iran are without suspended defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi.
There are also fitness doubts surrounding striker Mehdi Taremi and former Fulham and Nottingham Forest midfielder Askhan Dejagah.
Both nations impressed in qualifying with Morocco only conceding one goal in their eight games, while Iran only let in five goals in their 18 qualifying matches.
However, they were left rueing the draw that saw them placed in the same group as 2010 winners Spain and reigning European champions Portugal, with only the top two sides advancing to the last 16.
“Iran have been drawn in the hardest group in the World Cup and we needed more preparation,” said former Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz, who will end his seven-year stint as Iran manager after the tournament.
With tough challenges ahead, both countries will be seeing this as a must-win match. Morocco play Portugal on Wednesday, 20 June (13:00 BST), before Iran play Spain at 19:00 BST on the same day.
Morocco’s captain is Juventus defender Medhi Benatia and their squad also includes Real Madrid defender Achraf Hakimi and Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss.
Iran striker Sardar Azmoun, who plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan, has scored 23 times in 33 international appearances.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz is not exactly known for attacking football and Morocco also play in quite a pragmatic style. They only conceded one goal in eight games in qualifying – in a second-round win over Equatorial Guinea.
Looking at the other teams in Group B, you could say that this is a must-win for both sides if they are to have any chance of reaching the last 16, but it is probably more of a ‘must-score’.
- Morocco and Iran have never met at the World Cup. In fact, they have faced each other only once previously, a game which ended in a draw.
- Morocco have qualified for their fifth World Cup, their first since 1998. They have never progressed further than the last 16 (1986), being eliminated in the group stages three times in their four previous appearances.
- Morocco have won only two of their 13 games at the World Cup (drew four, lost seven), including five defeats in their last seven games (won one, drew one). They have also never won an opening game in the competition (drew two, lost two).
- None of Morocco’s 12 goals at the World Cup have been scored from a set-piece, all of them coming from open play.
- Morocco were the only team not to concede a single goal in the third round of CAF qualifiers for Russia 2018 (six games).
- This is Herve Renard’s first World Cup as manager. The Morocco boss is the only manager to win the African Cup of Nations with two different teams (Zambia, Ivory Coast).
- Iran have qualified for the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments for the first time ever. However, they have never reached the knockout stages, winning only one of their 12 games (drew three, lost eight) – against USA on 21 June 1998 (2-1).
- Iran have also only kept one clean sheet in their 12 World Cup games (0-0 v Nigeria, June 2014), scoring more than one goal only once, in their sole win against USA in 1998.
- Iran were unbeaten in their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, winning 12 games and drawing the other six (AFC second round and third round). They also kept 14 clean sheets in those 18 games.
- Carlos Queiroz is taking part in his third consecutive World Cup tournament as manager, and second in a row with Iran. His best performance was in 2010, when he led Portugal to the Round of 16 before being knocked out by eventual winners Spain.