Hakim Ziyech says Morocco believe they can progress from Group B ahead of their opening World Cup clash with Iran in St. Petersburg on Friday.
Both Morocco and Iran could be forgiven for feeling hard done by when they were pitted against 2010 winners Spain and reigning European champions Portugal in the group stage.
The turmoil in the Spain camp following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament and Fernando Hierro's appointment for the duration of the event may give hope to both sides.
Morocco are playing in a World Cup for the first time since 1998, when Iran claimed their sole win in the history of the tournament, and Ziyech says confidence in the camp is high.
Ziyech 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... good for us as players, but also good for us as a country.
"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."
5 - The 5 teams currently on the longest unbeaten runs ahead of the 2018 #WorldCup:— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 13, 2018
Listen to the @OptaJoe World Cup preview podcast for more stats:
Soundcloud https://t.co/NU5aOCoiYc pic.twitter.com/q5gEHsvviI
Iran are playing in successive World Cups after exiting the 2014 tournament with just a point, though only a last-gasp Lionel Messi free-kick denied them a draw with Argentina.
Their preparation has been bizarrely hindered by Nike's refusal to supply the squad with boots for the tournament because of economic sanctions imposed against the country by the United States.
That decision left coach Carlos Queiroz furious but he told Sky Sports that it would be "a source of inspiration" for Iran as they seek to end their long wait for a second win.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Morocco – Hakim Ziyech
Ziyech is one of five Dutch-born players in the Morocco squad and could be the most influential. He played a starring role for Ajax in the Eredivisie last season with nine goals and 15 assists and Morocco will have a much better chance of progressing if he can deliver similar form on the biggest stage.
Iran – Mehdi Taremi
Taremi has had some off-the-field issues, including a four-month ban following a contract dispute with Turkish side Caykur Rizespor, but his eight goals in qualification were a key reason for Iran's progression to the finals.
KEY OPTA STATS
- Morocco have won only two of their 13 games at the World Cup (D4 L7), including five defeats in their last seven games (W1 D1). They've also never won an opening game in the competition (D2 L2).
- Morocco were the only team not to concede a single goal in the third round of CAF qualifiers for Russia 2018 (six games).
- Iran have qualified for the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments for the first time. However, they have never reached the knockout stages, winning only one of their 12 games (D3 L8) - against USA on 21 June 1998 (2-1).
- Iran have also only kept one clean sheet in their 12 World Cup games (0-0 v Nigeria, June 2014), scoring more than one goal only once, in their sole win against USA in 1998.
- Iran were unbeaten in their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, winning 12 games and drawing the other six (AFC second round & third round). They also kept 14 clean sheets in those 18 games.
|Irving dominates in Celtics´ win over Raptors|
|Irving called LeBron this week to apologise|
|Ajax star De Jong wants to resolve future ´quickly´|
|Payton on Rams CB Peters: I have great respect for him|
|Rockets star Harden matches Chamberlain with historic performances|
|Nishikori survives Karlovic test in Melbourne|
|Vieira reunion felt really weird - Henry|
|´#BetAgainstUs´ - Edelman and Pats embracing underdog status|
|Van der Vaart: Isco the best player in the world|
|I haven´t seen Guardiola or Klopp do that – Lampard unhappy with Bielsa|
|Real Madrid always play to win, insists Casemiro|
|Royals pitcher Skoglund suspended for 80 games after testing positive for PEDs|
|Ronaldo and Juve celebrate Supercoppa Italiana title with Mayweather|
|We are not going to talk about Morata - Simeone reluctant to discuss striker|
|Madrid weak in Leganes loss, says Solari|
|Bologna and Banvit seal Champions League play-off spots|
|LeBron James to miss Thunder & Rockets games but nearing practice return|
|Leganes 1 Real Madrid 0 (1-3 agg): Isco starts as Solari´s side go through despite defeat|
|NFL playoffs 2019: X-factor for each NFC team|
|Mahomes: Chiefs must not repeat mistakes against Patriots|
|Higuain´s Supercoppa benching due to virus, says Milan boss Gattuso|
|Brown fires back at Arians over ´diva´ comments|
|Stone heading home from West Indies tour with back injury|
|Shazier will continue rehab with intention of playing again|
|That´s why we signed him! Allegri hails Supercoppa match-winner Ronaldo|
|Monaco on worst home run in club´s history after Nice draw|
|Atletico Madrid 3 Girona 3 (4-4 agg): Simeone´s side out on away goals|
|Gregg Williams is Jets´ new defensive coordinator|
|Ronaldo: Supercoppa triumph just the start for Juve|
|Monaco confirm Batshuayi talks|
|You know more than me! Bielsa´s Barcelona research surprised Guardiola|
|Juventus 1 AC Milan 0: Ronaldo heads Bianconeri to Supercoppa glory|
|Kane injury cannot be excuse for Tottenham – Pochettino|
|Woods to open 2019 schedule at Torrey Pines|
|Reported Liverpool target Dabbur to undergo Sevilla medical|
|Lebanon v North Korea: Radulovic calls on players to make history|
|MLS MVP Martinez signs five-year contract with Atlanta|
|WBC set deadline for Wilder-Fury rematch|
|Iran 0 Iraq 0: Team Melli top Group D after dull draw|
|Vietnam 2 Yemen 0: Quang Hai shines to give Golden Dragons hope|
|Bielsa admits to spying on all Leeds´ opponents|
|Valverde open to arrivals amid De Jong tug-of-war|
|Sexton named in Ireland squad for Six Nations openers|
|Higuain benched for Supercoppa Italiana amid Chelsea links|
|De Grandhomme, Latham and Santner back in Black Caps squad|
|Oman v Turkmenistan: Verbeek tells players to ´score as many as possible´|
|Japan v Uzbekistan: Cuper not distracted by potential last-16 opponents|
|Brown desperate for England recall|
|Lowry ties course record in Abu Dhabi|
|James is playing for Bayern future – Kovac|
|Wizards can compete for playoffs in LeBron-less East despite injuries - Brooks|
|Kyrgyzstan 3 Philippines 1: Lux hat-trick gives White Falcons third-place hope|
|South Korea 2 China 0: Son sets the standard as Bento´s men take top spot|
|Saudi Arabia v Qatar: Top spot on the line in Group E|
|Wasps pull off Fekitoa coup|
|Fresh injury woe for Real Madrid defender Vallejo|
|Home sweet home for Wozniacki as Stephens conquers Melbourne demons|
|Nadal: Victory over Ebden a step forward|
|Proteas rest Steyn and De Kock for opening ODIs|
|Nadal and Federer march on as rising stars prosper|
|Barcelona president Bartomeu convinced Valverde will stay|
|Inter forward Keita suffers thigh injury|
|Nadal races into third round with easy Ebden win|
|Kimmich ´perfect´ for Barcelona, says Xavi|
|Richardson and Nabi inspire Renegades´ rout of Sixers|
|This Liverpool isn´t a team of chokers – Mane|
|Central Coast Mariners 2 Melbourne City 1: Late Simon winner ends 10-match losing streak|
|Bryan backs Murray to return after hip resurfacing surgery|
|Scotland coach Townsend turns to trio of uncapped hookers|
|Spurs´ Aurier arrested on suspicion of assault, released without charge|