ST PETERSBURG: Iran were gifted their first victory in the finals for 20 years by a last-minute own goal in a 1-0 opening Group B victory over Morocco.
The Moroccans thus suffered a second defeat in three days after their bid to host the 2026 World Cup was roundly beaten by the United States, Canada and Mexico at Wednesday’s FIFA Congress.
Morocco had started at pace and were foiled in the early stages only by some desperate Iranian tackling and the reflexes of keeper Alireza Beiranvand. In the 20th minute the Iranian goal appeared to bear a charmed life as a phalanx of Moroccan goal attempts were blocked.
Perhaps reassured, Iran began to put their own game together and they should have taken the lead shortly before time.
Striker Sardar Azmoun, sent clear at speed, had the goal at his mercy but marginally lost control of the hall and his eventual shot was deflecte by the outstretched right leg of keeper Munir Mohand Mohamedi,
The match continued in this vein with few chances and tetchy exchanges and pathetic death-scene acting which Turkish referee Cakier Cuneyt did well to contain.
Both teams would have been satisfied with a point apiece when the Iranians snatched all three with an own goal in the last minute from luckless Aziz Bouhaddouz.
The substitute dived to his right to defend a free kick but managed only to send a superbly misdirected diving header into his own goal.
It was only their second World Cup win, two decades after the politically-charged 2-1 success over the United States in France in 1998 and followed a second half in which, ironically, they did not launch a single shot of their own at goal.