ST PETERSBURG • Iran coach Carlos Queiroz believes his players have been brought closer together by Nike's decision to cut their supply of boots to the team. But how quickly they have adjusted to their new gear will be sized up by Group B opponents Morocco today.
Nike announced they have been forbidden from providing football boots to Iran's squad during the World Cup, on account of sanctions imposed against the country by the United States. The late decision has disrupted Iran's preparations, with some players reportedly buying their own footwear from Russian shops or asking club team-mates for help.
"It has been a source of inspiration for us," Queiroz told Sky Sports. "Everybody is aware of the sanctions. (Nike) should apologise because this arrogant conduct against 23 boys is absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary."
Iran have had a difficult build-up overall, after friendly matches against Greece and Kosovo were also cancelled. It remains to be seen whether Queiroz's defiant verdict bears fruit, given today's loser in St Petersburg would be left needing to beat either Spain or Portugal to reach the last 16.
Queiroz, who will be without suspended defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, said: "We know their team very well but I suspect they know very little about us."
Iran have not lost a competitive game since the last World Cup, when they were sunk by a late Lionel Messi strike in the group stage against Argentina. That 22-match unbeaten run even saw them becoming the first team to qualify for Russia.
But breaking down Morocco, the only team not to concede a goal in the third round of African qualifying, could prove tough.
Veteran midfielders Mbark Boussoufa and Karim El Ahmadi shield the back four led by Juventus centre-back Mehdi Benatia, while coach Herve Renard's biggest offensive weapon is Dutch-born playmaker Hakim Ziyech.
Ziyech, who plays for Ajax, told KweseESPN: "If we don't believe that we can progress, what is the point of going to the tournament?
"This is a difficult group, but if we look at it through a positive lens it can be good... To play against these kinds of countries will be difficult, but it will be nice too. Playing against the likes of (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Andres) Iniesta is a great motivation, but we believe in ourselves."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
MOROCCO V IRAN
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