Dubai: Unfortunate Morocco striker Aziz Bu Haddouz handed Iran a late winner with an injury-time own-goal at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg last evening.
Morocco had imposed all of the early pressure and Iran captain Masoud Shojaei was given an early yellow card by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for a lunge on a Moroccan midfielder amid noises from the crowd that sounded ominously like those annoying vuvuzelas from South Africa 2010.
The Africans should have taken the lead on 19 minutes as they continued to pressurise the Iran goal.
Younus Belhanda saw a goalmouth effort blocked and Mehdi Benatia’s follow-up was well saved by goalkeeper Ali Reza Beiranvand. Next to spurn a chance was Ameen Harit, who shot straight at the keeper when he should have scored.
Karim Al Ahmadi went into the book for clipping the heels of Sardar Azmoun as Morocco’s frustrations at failing to break the deadlock began to show.
Just before the break, Iran could have taken a shock lead, Azmoun got the ball clear in front of goal following a breakaway, but he hit the shot too close to keeper Munir Mohamadi, who blocked, and the teams went into the interval locked at 0-0.
Things were a little more even as the second half got under way, with first Morocco then Iran wasting promising chances.
It turned into a scrappy affair after the early promise with a heavy challenge coming in on Omid Ebrahimi from Amine Harit and then Nour Al Deen Amrabat went down for Morocco and was unable to continue, being replaced by his younger brother Sofyan.
Both teems were playing much deeper in the final 20 minutes as they looked more worried about losing than going for a winner and both managers looked to wind down the clock with a string of substitutions.
Belhanda had other ideas and almost found the winner with 11 minutes to go when he brought the ball under control and nodding it on to Hakim Ziyech, whose shot brought out a brilliant save from Beiranvand, who palmed it away for a corner.
And then came the heartbreak for Morocco, as Bu Haddouz dived to attempt to clear an optimistic Iran ball into the area but his header was misguided and sailed past the keeper into the bottom corner and leave his side shell-shocked at the final whistle.