The most highly anticipated group to watch at the 2018 World Cup features Portugal, Spain, Iran and Morocco. Despite the World Cup missing a true “Group of Death,” this pool is among the toughest of the eight. Group B will showcase the current European champions, Portugal, against the 2010 World Cup winners, Spain.
June 15th: Morocco vs Iran in St Petersburg; Portugal vs Spain in Sochi
June 20th: Portugal vs Morocco in Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow; Iran vs Spain in Kazan
June 25th: Iran vs Portugal in Saransk; Spain vs Morocco in Kaliningrad
Portugal secured their spot in Russia after topping their group ahead of Switzerland in the qualifiers. The team, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, surpassed rivals Spain in the FIFA rankings and were placed in Pot 1. Portugal made history two years ago winning their first ever major trophy and will be hoping to continue their recent success.
While Ronaldo has won everything at the club level, this may be his last chance to win the most coveted prize missing in his collection. The 32-year-old is no longer the goal scoring machine he once was and will need to get back on track as his recent form for Real Madrid has been a concern. Manager Fernando Santos will seek to get the most out of his superstar striker and rely on the team’s defense if they hope to make a run at the tournament. The beloved coach in Portugal will be looking to make history again as they prepare for the World Cup.
Portugal will face Spain on June 15th, and the winner will likely finish at the top of the group and receive an easier draw in the Round of 16. Spain is looking to bounce back from a miserable exit in 2014, as they failed to make it out of the group stage.
La Roja have plenty of experience and talent, and have the ability to be crowned champions for the second time. A star-packed squad featuring David de Gea in goal, talented defenders including Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos along with incredible firing power through Álvaro Morata is a recipe for success. Spain is just too experienced and stronger all around for Portugal to handle and will ultimately win Group B.
Iran became the first Asian team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, after they managed to remain unbeaten in 18 qualifying games spanning two rounds. It will be Iran’s fifth World Cup appearance, and they are hoping to have a better showing than four years ago in Brazil. This is the first time ever they have consecutively qualified for the World Cup and were unfortunate to receive a less favorable draw landing two European giants.
Led by veteran Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, who has rebuilt the squad since the previous World Cup in 2014, and found youth players to improve their team. Sardar Azmoun is the key player for Iran, netting 22 international goals, 11 coming during the qualifiers, the same number as Tim Cahill (Australia), Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Romelu Lukaku (Belgium).
While they are not expected to take any points from Spain or Portugal, their biggest match will be against Morocco. The two will face one another in their opener, which will be Iran’s chance to earn their first victory since 1998. “It will be like our World Cup final – we’ll play like we are playing for our lives,” said Queiroz.
Morocco is hoping to win this highly contested opening match, however, they are likely to fall short and exit the Group Stage without any points. It’s been 20 years since their last World Cup appearance, as they head to their fifth tournament after winning Group C in Africa. Manager Hervé Renard is hoping to continue his success with another African team, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and then again with Ivory Coast three years later.
Renard has some talented youth players including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda, while his key man is Nabil Dirar. A versatile midfielder, Dirar won the French league title last season with Monaco. While Morocco remembers beating Portugal 3-1 in the 1986 World Cup, they will be foolish to think they can do the same against Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Prediction: Spain to top the group, Portugal to finish second, followed by Iran who will manage a victory against Morocco, despite both teams failing to reach the Round of 16.