An own goal by Morocco defender Aziz Bouhaddouz in the 95th minute gave Iran a vital 1-0 victory Friday in St. Petersburg, giving Team Melli a fighting chance to emerge from Group B in the World Cup.
The match appeared destined for a draw until substitute Sofyan Amrabat fouled Ehsan Haji Safi as he chased a long ball down the left side. Safi took the ensuing free kick and curled it into a dangerous area, and while Bouhaddouz was first to the ball, he re-directed it inside the near post and past helpless goalkeeper El Kajoui with barely 90 seconds remaining.
It was Iran’s first World Cup victory since defeating the United States 2-1 in 1998 and second overall in 13 matches. The three points provide a lifeline for Team Melli, who will face Iberian powers Spain and Portugal in their remaining two contests.
Morocco, which had an 18-match unbeaten streak end with this heartbreaking loss, will be hard-pressed to reach the knockout round for the first time since their only breakthrough in 1986. The loss capped a disappointing week for the African nation, which lost to the united North American bid of the United States, Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup on Wednesday.
Before conceding the own goal, the Atlas Lions had the best chance of the match in the 79th minute, with Hakim Ziyach’s fizzing and slicing 20-yard volley targeting the lower left corner was pushed around the post by Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand, who was at full stretch.
Morocco started the match brightly, controlling play in the first quarter-hour and had a flurry of shots from close range that the Team Melli defense smothered. Beiranvand also had to make a save in that sequence, denying Morocco captain Medhi Benatia. Amine Harit had an opportunity on the half-hour for the Atlas Lions, but his shot went right at the Iranian keeper.
Team Melli finally found an opportunity on the counter right before halftime, but striker Sardar Azmoun broke stride dribbling into the penalty area and could not get full force behind his shot that El Kajoli stopped. The rebound squirted out to Alireza Jahanbakhsh, whose attempt from nearly the same spot was deflected by El Kajoli with his left arm.
The second half lacked the pace of the opening 45 minutes and ground down through Iran slowing the pace. There was a moment of worry right before the final quarter-hour when Noureddine Amrabat struck his head on the pitch after being accidentally shouldered by Haji Safi.
The Moroccan midfielder was clearly dazed and wobbling, yet was still trying to convince his training staff he was able to continue. After nearly a minute of back and forth that included receiving a pair of slaps in the face from a trainer, Amrabat finally wobbled to the point he was assisted back down to sit on the sideline, prompting coach Herve Renard to send on the younger Amrabat.
Referee Cuneyt Cakir brandished four yellow cards, with Jahanbakhsh, Masoud Shojaei and Karim Ansarifard going into his book along with Morocco’s Karim El Ahmadi.
Iran plays its next group match against Spain in Kazan on Wednesday, while Portugal and Morocco will square off earlier that day in Moscow.