Masters of their own downfall, Morocco coach Herve Renard said he would have been disappointed with a draw let alone such a cruel defeat after substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz headed past his own goalkeeper in the 95th minute to hand Iran a first World Cup win in 20 years on Friday.
The Atlas Lions, on their return to football’s grandest showpiece following a 20-year absence, dominated throughout the match at St Petersburg Stadium, forcing Iran to sit deep and using their fluid, technical midfield to continually cause problems for the Asian side.
Yet having failed to make 63 per cent possession count, Renard’s hopes of taking his team through a group that also includes Spain and Portugal, now sit in ruins.
“I am very disappointed,” the Frenchman said after Iran became the first Asian side to win a World Cup match since 2010.
"If I had come to this press conference with a draw, I would still have been disappointed. You can imagine what the defeat means as we had many opportunities to score. We can only blame ourselves. Our performance led to this crucifixion.”
Morocco had started much the better side, with Schalke’s Amine Harit scuffing a volley early on before Hakim Ziyach of Ajax, having being picked out in acres of space from a corner, totally mistimed his first-time effort.
The technical excellence of Harit in particular caused problems for Iran, who looked at risk of conceding every time Morocco attacked.
Relying purely on a quick-counter, Carlos Queiroz’s side did have their chances. Karim Ansarifard struck too tamely after being pushed out wide, then, shortly before half-time, Sardar Azmoun was played clear through.
The Rubin Kazan striker, however, took a poor touch before shaping to shoot and goalkeeper Monir El Kajoui read it well to save with his legs.
“If you don’t score when you are dominant, it leaves a little doubt and, as you can see, they had a chance in the first half that showed just how dangerous they can be on the counterattack,” said Moroccan Mbark Boussoufa, who plays his domestic football in Abu Dhabi with Al Jazira.
Morocco’s Hakim Ziyach of Ajax finally forced a sprawling save from Beiranvand midway through the second half.
Yet with both teams knowing defeat would be disastrous for their hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages, Iran were happy to sit back and drew the ire of many of the 61,500 fans when captain Masoud Shojaei walked slowly off the pitch while being substituted.
With tempers starting to flare, referee Cuneyt Cakir gave 36 fouls — although only four yellow cards — as the match lost all rhythm.
“There were al lot of fouls, but this is part of the game and, of course, we trust the referees and the VAR, but Iran were wasting a lot of time,” Boussoufa added.
“It was frustrating but that is part of the game. We had an extra six minutes at the end and conceded a goal in those six minutes so it’s just very disappointing because we deserved much much better.”
In the 95th minute, a foul handed Iran a rare chance to get bodies forward and when Ehsan Hajsafi’s near-post free-kick looked set to be cleared for a corner, Bouhaddouz, who had only entered the fray in the 76th minute, skewed his header past El Kajoui to break Moroccan hearts.
“It’s not easy for me,” an emotional Bouhaddouz said. “This moment is….I can’t say too much. Immediately after the game, I can’t say too much, but this is football and we hope the next game we can win.
"We know we were the better team, but in the end we must win and we didn’t do that. Our next game is against Portugal. We hope we can win.”
Boussoufa insisted the team are not dismissing their chance of progress just yet.
“We have to keep our heads high and be proud of the way we played," he said. "It won’t be easy because if you lose the first game you have no more chances to make mistakes.
"We have to try to take everything. It’s not going to be easy, but where we have hope, we should give everything."