Group B features the Iberian cousins, Portugal and Spain, who are coming into Russia with a point to prove. Iran and Morocco will be hoping to cause problems for them, but do they have what it takes to cause an upset this summer? Here is our breakdown of Group B.
Forget about Spain’s collapse at the 2014 World Cup.
This team has a new coach in Julien Lopetegui, and an influx of young talent he coached at the U21 level to go along with the veteran World Cup winners on the team.
Spain’s sure success in Russia is simple when you think about it: They have David De Gea (the world’s best goalkeeper), arguably the best defence in the tournament led by Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué, and the best midfield in the tournament — even after Xavi and Xabi retired, and Cesc Fàbregas washed up.
Sergio Busquets will hold it down as per usual. A healthy Thiago is the next best thing after Xavi. He’s a do-it-all midfielder with excellent passing skills, defensive awareness and a capable offence. Andrés Iniesta, on a good day, is still one of the best players in the world, and I expect him to put together a masterpiece of a month. Finally, Isco … this team will go as far as he takes them. He’s the reason why I’m not worried about Spain’s lack of a world class 9. Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata or Rodrigo can start up top alongside Isco and David Silva, but it will be up to the two playmakers — and Iniesta — to make sure the team scores. This false 9 approach won them the 2012 Euro.
There’s no need to overthink this one. Spain is stacked from top to bottom, they’re one of the best five teams in the world, and will be one of at least two European teams in the semifinal of the tournament.
Predicted Finish: First Place
Portugal are coming in to the World Cup as the defending European champions and they are a better team than they were two years ago, good enough to win the World Cup though? Probably not, but you can never count them out as long as Cristiano Ronaldo is fit and healthy.
The biggest issue is their defence. Head coach Fernando Santos will have to rely on defenders at the tail-end of their careers in Pepe (34), Jose Fonte (34), and Bruno Alves (34).
In terms of midfielders Portugal are pretty set. With the rise of Bernardo Silva, Andre Gomes, and Ruben Neves, they have three players who are capable of creating chances and scoring goals of their own. Plus, William Carvalho will bring balance to this midfield with his physical presence and defensive mindset. For those who don’t know of Neves, he has attracted interest from the biggest clubs in Europe. He was a critical part of Wolves’ promotion to the Premier League and overall he’s just a solid, well-rounded box-to-box midfielder.
Going forward can Portugal score the goals they need to be successful? The answer is easy. In Ronaldo, they have arguably the greatest goal scorer of all time. The 33-year-old has scored 43 goals in 45 appearance in all competitions this season. This is probably his last World Cup — I say probably because it doesn’t seem like he ages– and the only thing missing in his trophy cabinet is a World Cup winners medal. And you know he wants to be a World Cup winner.
Player to Watch
Other than Ronaldo, the player to watch on this team is Bernardo Silva. He helped Manchester City achieve their record breaking English Premier League season and was crowned a premier champion. He can score goals, create chances and wiggle his way through opposition players with ease. He is the kind of player that can make something happen out of nothing. Silva and Ronaldo have the potential to be one of the best duo, if not the best duo, at the tournament.
Predicted Finish: Second
Morocco are back in the World Cup after a 20-year absence. They were the first African nation to ever make it to the knock-out stages of a World Cup. And in my opinion, they will probably host the 2026 World Cup (don’t @ me). They were the only African nation in qualifying to qualify without conceding a goal. We will probably see them play defensive versus Spain and Portugal and then go high-press against Iran. That route will be the route that will most likely take them to the knock-out stages.
Morocco will be organized well at the back and I can’t see them conceding a lot of goals in the group stages given their opponents aren’t notorious for their prolific goal-scoring records. In midfield, this side has some good, young creative talent. With the likes of Sofiane Boufal (Southampton), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), and Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) Morocco can cause some upsets.
Player to Watch
Hakim Ziyech has been prolific for his club side Ajax. The 25-year-old attacking midfielder showed his ability to unlock defences with his vision and his goal scoring ability throughout the 2017/18 season. He has registered 10 goals and 15 assists in 41 matches. His set-pieces are very good, which can be a real threat for Morocco in this World Cup. Overall, he is a very complete midfielder.
Predicted Finish: Third
Iran will be competing in their second consecutive World Cup for the first time. A common trend amongst the minnows of the World Cup is their defensive approach to games. The same applies for Iran, who play a defensive and counter-attacking style. However, they have also shown that they are capable of playing a high-press system under former Portugal national team coach Carlos Queiroz.
During the 2014 World Cup, a lot of players opted to fast for Ramadan, a holy month in the islamic religion. However, this year Ramadan will end in the opening days on the World Cup. But fasting during the pre-tournament camp may pose some challenges for Iran.
Player to watch
Their star player is Sardar Azmoun, who currently plays for Russian side Rubin Kazan. He is a 23-year-old striker that has plenty of room to develop. He has a good scoring record for Iran. Azmoun has registered 23 goals in 33 appearances for his national side, but has only scored five goals in 26 appearances for his club side. He possess a threat with his ariel ability inside the box and his link-up play with midfielders is good.
Predicted Finish: Fourth