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Achraf Plays As Left-back Against Iran In Heartbreaking Loss

Morocco v Iran: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Achraf Harkimi played the full 90 today in Morocco’s cruel, 1 - 0 loss against Iran. This was, in every sense, a must-win for both teams — with both nations fully knowing they need maximum points to have any chance of grabbing a second-place finish over one of Spain or Portugal.

Morocco were the stronger of the two sides, but neither was really that convincing, and Iran’s freak-goal at the end capped off a bizarre match where neither side looked terribly dangerous. Here are some bullet-points from my notepad (Achraf-focused):

  • Achraf was deployed as a left-back today. Nothing new for him in the national team — he’s been asked to play there a few times before, and has done well on that side of the pitch. Today he played quite high, particularly in the first half. Iran didn’t do well defending the flanks on either side — on the right, they had trouble stopping the powerful runs of both Nordin Amrabat and Karim El Ahmadi — and Achraf had license to stay high. An example of this can be found below, where he makes an off-ball run and stays off the shoulder of the defensive line for the entire sequence:

  • Iran’s head coach (and former Real Madrid manager) Carlos Quieroz played a narrow scheme. He tried to pack the middle. This was effective to prevent cut-ins, but his team were unable to mark Morocco’s attackers on crosses and set-pieces. They dodged a few bullets here, with their goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand, pulling out a few great stops throughout to keep it scoreless.

  • Achraf, while being in good positions throughout, didn’t see the ball much. His cut-ins lacked conviction. Iran did well in providing numbers when Achraf, or other players, tried to cut inside:

  • It was a solid two-way game from Achraf, but he didn’t get much of the ball despite being in good positions offensively, and most of Morocco’s attack was channeled through the right-flank.

Achraf did, however, nearly have an assist late, in what would’ve been the game-winner, not long before Iran scored their freak winning-goal:

  • Iran did not threaten much despite the win. They did grow into the game after being pinned to start the match, but didn’t look like they were going to score apart from a great chance on a counter-attack in the first half. With their attacks generally defanged, they allowed Achraf to stay up the pitch without punishing him — lacking the resources and numbers to provide overloads behind him. When they did get in-behind Achraf, Morocco was there to cover:

Achraf ended this match with disappointment, overall. He probably felt he could’ve contributed more. Morocco ended the match in disastrous fashion, meaning Achraf will likely have an early flight home to Madrid this summer. Here’s how they lost at the end:

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