World Cup 2018: Group B preview
The World Cup always throws up some exciting fixtures and this summer will be no different.
The clash between Spain and Portugal on the 15th June looks set to be one of the matches of the tournament.
Andres Iniesta famously won the World Cup for Spain late in extra time back in 2010 but the side has completely changed since then.
Iker Casillas has been replaced by Manchester United’s David De Gea and Spain’s attack is nowhere near as deadly as it was with the parternship of David Villa and Fernando Torres.
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in South Africa eight years ago before knocking them out on penalties two years later, at Euro 2012.
How will Cristiano Ronaldo fare at the World Cup?
All eyes will of course be firmly planted on Cristiano Ronaldo who never fails to put on a show when the world is watching.
Portugal are certainly not just a one-man team, proven by their 1-0 win in the Euro 2016 final over France where Ronaldo was stretchered off early in the first half.
The two European sides are joined by Morocco and Iran in a group that looks fairly easy to predict.
Can Morocco & Iran cause an upset?
Morocco and Iran may choose to line up defensively and frustrate their opponents but it would be a major shock if Spain and Portugal didn’t qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Juventus’ Medhi Benatia will face his former team-mate, Thiago, when Morocco take on Spain and Southampton fans will keep a close eye on Morocco’s matches, hoping that Sofiane Boufal can impress.
Iran manager Carlos Quieroz worked closely with Cristiano Ronaldo when he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager at Manchester United but in all honesty, there is little that can be done to stop Ronaldo when he is in the mood.
Below is a team by team guide to World Cup 2018 Group B.
The 2010 Winners will be desperate to put on a show in Russia after their embarrassing group stage exit in 2014.
Spain struggled in Brazil 4 years ago but qualified for Russia with ease, winning 9 out of their 10 matches, scoring 36 goals in the process.
This will be Spain’s 14th World Cup finals and they look well equipped to go far in the tournament.
Spain’s main issue will be their attack with Alvaro Morata performing pretty poorly at Chelsea whilst Diego Costa has fallen out of favour with Spain’s manager Julen Lopetegui.
Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas are the only likely World Cup winners who are likely to feature for Spain in this year’s tournament.
Spain’s midfield oozes with quality and their defence may be the best around but with very few attacking options, I wouldn’t suggest betting on them to win the tournament.
Spain are also blessed with debatably the best goalkeeper in world football.
David De Gea has been playing out of his skin for Manchester United and if he keeps up his ridiculous form this summer, Spain could become World Champions yet again.
Spain’s key men
Isco (Real Madrid), Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) & David Silva (Man City).
It is essential that Morata performs well for Spain in Russia as he will be the man leading the line.
Isco and Silva scored 5 goals each in qualification, as many as the Chelsea forward.
Portugal head to Russia as European Champions after their triumph at Euro 2016 in France.
Portugal have never won the World Cup and their best ever finish is 3rd place, at the 1966 tournament in England.
In 2014, Portugal failed to progress past the group stage as they finished third in their group behind eventual World Champions, Germany and the USA.
Portugal won their qualification group ahead of Switzerland and Hungary and will fancy their chances of succeeding in Russia.
Ronaldo has scored a single goal (and no more) in every World Cup since 2006.
The Real Madrid legend needs seven goals to become Portugal’s all-time leading goal scorer at the World Cup finals.
Eusebio currently holds that record with 9 goals, all of which came in one tournament, 1966.
If Cristiano Ronaldo wins the World Cup, does that make him the GOAT?
Portugal’s key men
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Andre Silva (AC Milan) & William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon).
Ronaldo scored an incredible 15 goals in qualification for the World Cup whilst 22 year old Andre Silva chipped in with a further 9.
William Carvalho will play in central midfield and break down opposition attacks before helping to get the ball forward to Ronaldo and Co.
Morocco will be at the World Cup finals for the 5th time in their history this summer.
The 1976 AFCON winners are captained by Juventus’ Medhi Benatia and boast some great attacking talent including Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal (pictured above).
Morocco qualified for the tournament without losing a single match but did draw three of their matches 0-0.
It will be interesting to see how Spain and Portugal try to break down Morocco’s stern defence which could make them dark horses in Group B if there is to be a shock early exit for one of the European sides.
Morocco haven’t appeared in the World Cup finals since 1998 and have only once qualified from the group stage of the tournament.
That one occasion came in 1986 when they were paired with Poland, England and this year’s opponents, Portugal.
Morocco’s key men
Khalid Boutaïb (Yeni Malatyaspor), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Medhi Benatia (Juventus)
Boutaïb was Morocco’s top goalscorer in qualification with 4 goals to his name.
Hakim Ziyech has been in fine form for Ajax this season, becoming a key player for the Dutch giants.
Medhi Benatia has also been having a great season, playing 16 games and scoring 2 goals for Juventus from centre back.
Iran will also be at the World Cup finals for the 5th time in Russia.
USA are the only team ever to be defeated by the Iranians at the World Cup, during a highly political contest at the World Cup in France 98.
Ex-Real Madrid manager Carlos Quieroz is the man in charge of the Iran football team but it is extremely unlikely that Iran will make it out of the group stage.
The Iranians topped their qualification group with 22 points from 10 matches.
Iran didn’t lose a single match in a group alongside South Korea and the 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar.
Iran’s key men
Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Mehdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa) & Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos).
Azmoun scored 7 goals in Iran’s road to qualification and at 23 years of age, has already netted 22 times for his country.
Taremi will join Azmoun up front with Olympiacos midfielder Ehsan Hajsafi joining them anywhere along the midfield.
the Group B results!
Morocco 1-0 Iran
Spain 2-2 Portugal
Portugal 2-0 Morocco
Iran 0-2 Spain
Spain 3-0 Morocco
Iran 1-3 Portugal
The verdict on Group B
We think that Spain will narrowly pip Portugal to top spot in the group, largely down to David De Gea.
Spain conceded just 3 goals in their 10 qualifiers whilst Portugal conceded 4.
The two sides are very solid at the back, as are Morocco and Iran, to a lesser extent.
This group has the potential to be a lot closer than people would expect.
That said, there is no doubt that the past two European Champions will be in the knockout stages of the tournament which means that Morocco and Iran will be heading home.
This will surely be Ronaldo’s last ever World Cup and there is no chance that he won’t be looking to win the golden boot in Russia.