GROUP B of the 2018 World Cup gets underway on Friday as Morocco meet Iran in Saint Petersburg. Dan McCulloch (@danmcc84) analyses the action and pinpoints his favourite fancies.
Morocco v Iran | Friday 15th June 2018, 16:00 | ITV
Morocco and Iran begin Group B proceedings in Saint Petersburg on Friday and it’s hard to foresee a thriller.
Initially, I wanted to find a way to oppose goals, believing that a combination of two defensive-minded sides and a World Cup opener would lead to a tense, drab affair, with one goal likely to be enough to secure victory.
However, over the last five tournaments – since the World Cup moved to a 32-team tournament – the 80 opening fixtures have seen 196 goals at an average of 2.45, which is lower than you see in the Premier League (the average was just under 2.70 this season) but higher than my memory expected!
Goal expectancy to low to touch
Therefore, while I cannot see many goals in this encounter, I cannot endorse an Under 1.5 Goals bet when 6/4 isn’t available.
I will therefore keep things simple and recommend Morocco to emerge victorious at a best price of 13/10 (Bet365). The Atlas Lions did not concede a goal in qualifying as they topped a group featuring Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali.
Herve Renard's outfit scored 11 goals across those six games, but given half their matches finished goalless, it’s easy to see why bookies and punters are expecting a tight affair.
Tough nut to crack
Evidently, opponents Iran will not be an easy task.
Carlos Quieroz’s side also have an enviable defensive record, conceding just twice – both against Syria in their final game – in 10 matches en-route to Russia.
And in AZ Alkmaar’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh – imagine Mark Lawrenson pronouncing that – (who was top scorer in the Eredivisie this season) and Russian-based Sardar Azmoun, they can be a threat going forward.
However, Morocco possess greater attacking threat in my view in the form of Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech, Galatarasay’s Younes Belhanda and Leganes Nordin Amrabat, who is formerly of Watford.
Additionally, with Juventus’ Medhi Benatia skippering the side and Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi also very likely to start, the Africans have a lot more European top-flight experience than their counterparts.
Iran’s record in qualification does scare me a little but Morocco are a step up in class from their opponents there and with Spain and Portugal to come, victory here is essential for both sides, so I don’t think Quieroz will be too negative.
A host of other bets were considered, including Draw/Morocco at 9/2 (Unibet) and 1-0 to the Atlas Lions. However, odds of 5/1 is not currently available so I will have to go hunting on the exchange nearer kick off if I want a correct score play.
Sometimes it pays to keep it simple and with the North African’s tipped by many to make it out of their group, I am confident that the 13/10 is a more than palatable price for them to open their campaign with a victory.
Morocco v Iran – Morocco to win (13/10 Bet365)