Key Battles

Medhi Benatia vs Sardar Azmoun

Benatia vs Azmoun
Benatia vs Azmoun

The talismans of both nations up against each other. This, in many ways, is the equivalent of two gladiators going at each other.

Morocco captain Medhi Benatia has forged his reputation as a solid defender. He was a crucial member of the Serie A winning Juventus side this season. The Moroccan defender averaged 2.2 interceptions and 4.1 clearances per game this season, showcasing his ability to deal with dangerous situations.

Azmoun, who plays for Rubin Kazan, did not have a very impressive club season in 2017-18. But, his record for Iran is what makes him a frightening prospect to deal with. In 33 games, the 23-year-old has scored 23 goals for his nation. Azmoun is currently the highest active goal-scorer for Iran and will be the cornerstone of his team’s success this year. Nicknamed the ‘Iranian Messi’, Azmoun is a talented forward who can play with different styles. At 6’1”, he can trouble with his aerial ability and can also take on defenders with his ball control. Benatia will have his work cut out against Azmoun.

Younes Belhanda vs Rouzbeh Cheshmi

Belhanda vs Cheshmi
Belhanda vs Cheshmi

Younes Belhanda can now be considered a forgotten man of football. He was a key player of the Montpellier side that won the 2011-12 Ligue 1, operating as a playmaker. Belhanda’s versatility, however, means that he’s a prime box-to-box threat for any opposition. He is a tireless runner who thrives in late game situations.

Currently plying his trade at Galatasaray, Belhanda amassed eight assists for the Turkish giants this year. For Morocco, Belhanda has also scored five goals with the latest coming in the Atlas Lions’ warm-up game against Estonia.

Iran’s defensive anchor Rouzbeh Chashmi will have to be on his toes to contain Belhanda who provides both a creative and goal-scoring threat. Cheshmi is a versatile player who can operate as either a defender or a defensive midfielder. The Esteghlal man has the stamina to keep up with Belhanda but we doubt if he has the quality to match up with Belhanda’s skills.

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