Portugal 1-0 Morocco: Expected Porgutal to be on the front foot and attack from the outset; I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Morocco that went on the attack from the outset. On the rare occasions when Cristiano Ronaldo has issues finding space up front, he has no problem drifting wide left to find it. There is only one person on the field Morocco absolutely has to mark; how they left Ronaldo open in the box on the set piece header that gave Portugal the early lead I will never know. Morocco actually did a good job putting numbers in the box up front, taking some quality chances. I like how comfortable Morocco was in tight spaces, with had good movement off the ball.
The much better attacking came from Morocco, and as the game wore on they sent waves of players into the attack, doing everything they could to get opportunities in the box, keeping up the pressure, but they just couldn’t find that final touch to put the ball in the back of the net. Morocco was especially effective down the right wing with Nordin Amrabat. When Gelsin Martins came into the game in the second half, Portugal showed more forward verve on the right flank. For two games Spain and now Morocco have been taking advantage of the weak center of the Portuguese defense in Jose’ Fonte and Pepe; Morocco just couldn’t finish. A very winnable game for Morocco. I’m waiting for Portugal to show me they are more than just Ronaldo…
Iran 0-1 Spain: Since Spain was going to play their usual “tici-taci” possession-intensive style, Iran was going to be satisfied sitting back and staying in front of the Spanish attack. It was up to Iranian Saeid Ezatolahi in the center of midfield to keep Diego Costa and Andres Iniesta out of the box. Things got snippy, which made sense; Iran doesn’t have the futbol quality that Spain has, so they threw their weight around. The problem was that when you give up so much possession to Spain, they eventually find a way to get the ball through. I know you want to keep your discipline and shape, but at a whopping 82% possession by Spain early, it would probably help if you had the ball at some point [sarcasm intended]. Winger Ramin Rezaeian finally got on the end of one for Iran, their first shot on goal in the 51st minute.
La Furia Roja patience paid of in the 53 minute by the opener by Diego Costa, his third goal (of course, it was Iniesta that provided it). You could make the argument that the best player on the pitch today was Isco, who found some space on the left side to keep possession and get in the final third. A VAR review took an Iranian set piece goal off the board, which I’m sure will bring a lot of criticism and controversy. The goal by Spain certainly opened up the game for Iran, who closed down Spanish players with the ball, gained possession and started getting the ball quickly forward into the box. Spain wanted to sit back and run out the clock after their goal, but Iran wouldn’t let them, and the game turned into a track meet the last 20 minutes. Got the sense that Spain was more relieved this game finally ended rather than feeling victorious.