Iranian eyes on 'Universe Cup'

Queiroz likens beating Morocco to winning World Cup final, fancies taking Spain's scalp

ST PETERSBURG • Carlos Queiroz said Iran may have won their World Cup "final" against Morocco on Friday but he already has his sights set on a "Universe Cup final" against Spain.

Iran have emerged as the early challengers to Spain and Portugal in Group B after Aziz Bouhaddouz's 95th-minute own goal sealed a dramatic 1-0 win.

It was Iran's only World Cup victory since their first in 1998. With Spain and Portugal drawing 3-3, Queiroz's side will head into their clash against La Roja on Wednesday top of the Group B table and with momentum as well as hope.

"If the game against Morocco was the World Cup final for us, the game against Spain will be the Universe Cup final," Queiroz said.

Iran's build-up to this tournament had not been smooth. Nike had blocked the players' supply of boots leading up to their opening game, while friendlies against Greece and Kosovo were cancelled.

"It was not a miracle that we won," Queiroz added. "Superman is only in the cartoons. Nobody is superman. What can happen once in a while is a group of people, when they are united, we can create super stories and super things."

When Bouhaddouz nodded in at the near post, Iran's substitutes could not resist rushing onto the field. When the final whistle blew moments later they were sprinting over again in delight.

"It was crazy, we don't realise yet that we have done something historical," said Iran's Alireza Jahanbakhsh. "I have spoken with my family and friends (back home) and they say people are going crazy in the streets. With all the things happening around the world now, football is one of the biggest things that can make people happy."

Iran's win was also a victory for Asian football.

At the last World Cup, Asia's quartet of representatives failed to deliver a single victory and combined to earn just three points in the group stage. Iran have equalled the continent's haul in just the third match of the Russia tournament.

Morocco can at least take heart from a blistering first half an hour, during which their zip and zest lacked only an opening goal.

Bouhaddouz, on as a second-half substitute, apologised for his error, which leaves his team needing to beat either Spain or Portugal to keep their hopes of progress alive.

"It is a bitter moment for me," he said. "Unfortunately, it happens in football and today it happened to me. I can only apologise to the team, the fans and the 35 million people in Morocco. For sure, I will give my best in the next games."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline 'Iranian eyes on 'Universe Cup''. Print Edition | Subscribe