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World Cup: Iran tops Group B, while Egypt suffers without Salah Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

World Cup: Iran tops Group B, while Egypt suffers without Salah

Mehdi Taremi of Iran and his team-mates celebrate their goal [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 June, 2018

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The most Middle East World Cup ever has kicked off, with Iran currently topping Group B and Egypt suffering without Mo Salah, writes Uri Levy in Russia.

The second day of the World Cup was full of Middle Eastern action. 

Egypt v Uruguay

RECAP: Minute-by-minute updates from Egypt's opening game

It started with Egypt who played Uruguay in the Central Stadium at Ekaterinburg, a city with a controversial story behind its World Cup venue. Two temporal stands were built outside of the original building, which creates a rare shape for a football stadium. Back in the time of the Russian bid to host the tournament, a few protests have erupt against it in the city and the topic remained an undisclosed issue.

With this unclear background, almost 8,000 seats remained empty during the match. When asked about the issue by The New Arab, a FIFA representative answered: "I can't provide you with any answer."

In any case, on the pitch itself there was an intense game. Without Mohamed Salah, who eventually did not take part in the game due to his shoulder injury, Egypt produced a great tactical performance. They hung on to the match and almost scored against a much better side that also suffered a bad day for star striker Luis Suarez. 

However, Uruguay took advantage of a great lob by Carlos Sanchez in the 89th minute when Gaston Ramirez scored a terrific header and made it 1-0. Egypt was knocked down. All the effort was for nothing. With Russia beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday, Egypt now is in a must-win situation before the second match of the group stage. 

Egypt must acknowledge its chances as well in a suddenly highly important clash against Saudi Arabia. This match involves much more than football, as international relations and current atmosphere in the region are all roaming in. 

Iran v Morocco

RECAP: Minute-by-minute updates from Iran and Morocco's opening game

Friday continued with a MENA derby - Iran v Morocco - with 62,550 fans in St Petersburg. 

The first 20 minutes of the match were ecstatic. Morocco ruled the pitch while displaying attractive football and getting a few promising chances to score, but slowly Iran got into the game and began to attack the Moroccans with the likes of Karim Ansarifad. 

A boiling first half concluded in 0-0 with few promising chances. In the second half both coaches, Herve Renard and Carlos Quieroz, dictated a mind game which wasn't a pleasant view to the neutral fan's eyes, but then, another last minute shocker went down. Aziz Bohaddouz, one of the few Moroccan internationals born in the country, managed to score a header into his own net, and sent thousands of Iranians in the stands into madness. With this own goal Bohaddouz became the first substitute to score an own goal since 2006 - not a good feeling at all. 

After a heroic 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal with a hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo, at the end of the first match day, Iran is topping Group B with 3 points, making the next game in Kazan one to watch. Who would believe that would be the case? No one, probably, except the Iranians themselves. 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here

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