Team Melli victorious: The view from St. Petersburg

Draw will ‘spice up’ Asian World Cup qualifiers says Indonesia coach

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan was at the Saint-Petersburg Stadium as Iran’s Team Melli beat Morocco 1-0 in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Group B opener. This article was created in partnership with Vivo, the official smartphone of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups. All videos and photos in this article were shot on the Vivo V9.

After going winless at the last FIFA World Cup, it took Asia just the second attempt for them to get off the mark at Russia 2018 after Iran’s dramatic 1-0 win over Morocco on Friday.

A 95th-minute own-goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz proved to be the decider, as tens of thousands of Team Melli fans exploded into a frenzy in St. Petersburg.

Yet, even before a ball had been kicked, there was a palpable air of excitement and anticipation as hordes of the Iranian faithful descended on the magnificent Saint-Petersburg Stadium, which only opened its doors last year.

And, when Team Melli walked out onto the pitch 45 minutes before kickoff for their warm-up, huge cheers emerged from those in white and red, all eager to see heroes like Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun grace world football’s biggest stage.

FOX Sports Asia was pitch-side before the game to experience the “Vivo Super Fan” programme, which enables fans similar access throughout the entirety of the World Cup and allows them to get up close with the game’s biggest names.

But, of course, the main event arrived as the Group B encounter got underway and, for much of the 90 minutes, a draw was on the cards as neither side were able to find the breakthrough.

Then, in the fifth minute of injury-time, Iran won a freekick on the left and Ehsan Hajsafi swung in dangerous delivery which Bouhaddouz – in an attempt to intercept – could only divert into the back of his own net.

Immediately, the most deafening of roars emerged from the Iran half of the stadium, although it was bettered less than a minute later when the final whistle sounded.

Almost always in football, there has to be a winner and a loser and there was obvious disappointment and sorrow from the Morocco camp, especially given the way the lost in heart-breaking fashion.

However, Iran will be celebrating through the night as they got their Russia 2018 campaign off to a perfect start and, in the process, notched only their second win in the World Cup.