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World Cup 2018 Group B Preview: Spain and Portugal likely to dominate

Fabio Coentrao (right) of Portugal holds off Sergio Busquets of Spain (credit: Getty Images)

World Cup 2018 Group B preview. Spain and their neighbours Portugal are red-hot favourites to qualify at the expense of Morocco and Iran. 

Friday June 15

Morocco v Iran (St Petersburg, 16:00)
Portugal v Spain (Sochi, 19:00)

Wednesday June 20

Portugal v Morocco (Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 13:00)
Spain v Iran (Kazan, 19:00)

Monday June 25

Portugal v Iran (Saransk, 19:00)
Spain v Morocco (Kaliningrad, 19:00)


The Portuguese are not only the reigning European champions but also the top seeds in this group, with Spain having been pushed down to No 9 in the FIFA World Rankings when the four pots were determined for the draw on December 1.

Their coach Fernando Santos comes across as a dour character who may not be much fun on a night out, but he is certainly an international football specialist and has also taken Greece to the knockout stages of a World Cup and European Championship.

The fact Portugal have already enjoyed major tournament success as outsiders will give them the belief that they can go all the way in Russia, especially as they turned over hosts France in extra time in the final two years earlier, and they qualified by finishing top of their group.

Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo (Getty Images)
Who else? The five-time Ballon d’Or winner will, of course, consider himself the biggest star at the entire World Cup, not only in the Portuguese ranks, and this could be his last chance to finally lift football’s most iconic trophy at the age of 33.

Also, the Real Madrid superstar was forced off due to injury in the first half of the Euro 2016 final, so he will be eager to go all the way this time and play the leading part rather than be forced into a cheerleading role on the sidelines as he was at the Stade de France.


Winners of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, there could hardly have been a more spectacular fall from grace for the reigning champions in Brazil as they exited the tournament with a game to play after defeats in their first two matches against the Netherlands and Chile.

That marked the end of an era as players such as Xavi and Xabi Alonso retired from the international scene, while coach Vicente del Bosque left after Euro 2016 in which Spain only reached the first knockout round, with Julen Lopetegui taking over.

Qualification for Russia was achieved comfortably at the expense of group rivals Italy and with an ideal-looking combination of youth and experience, Spain look capable of going a long way.

Key man: Sergio Ramos

Spain’s captain has become one of the most decorated defenders in football history with three Champions League triumphs and, of course, he and fellow centre-half Gerard Pique played the full 120 minutes of the 2010 World Cup Final victory against the Netherlands.

But his importance to the Spanish cause extends to his temperament because Ramos has also been sent off 24 times for his club Real Madrid and any lack of discipline could be costly.


Back at the World Cup for the first time since 1998 and making their fifth appearance in the tournament, Morocco were quarter-finalists at the 2017 African Cup of Nations in which they lost to Egypt.

In their qualifying campaign for Russia they came through the final stage comfortably, eliminating the Ivory Coast and keeping a clean sheet in all six fixtures with their strength most definitely being in defence rather than attack.

Coach Herve Renard is the first man to win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries, Zambia and the Ivory Coast, and will hope to make an impact on his World Cup debut.

Key man: Medhi Benatia

Benatia has made his name in Italian football with Udinese, Roma and Juventus, his three-year spell at Bayern Munich in between the latter two named clubs proving only moderately successful, and at the age of 31 in Russia he should be at his peak as a central defender.

A strong tackler and effective in the air, Benatia’s organisational ability will be required to marshal a Morocco defence that is sure to come under plenty of pressure against Spain and Portugal.


This is a fifth World Cup appearance for Iran, who have never progressed past the group stage, while their sole victory at the tournament came in 1998 when they won 2-1 against the United States in a politically-tense contest.

Perennial quarter-finalists in the Asian Cup, Iran were unbeaten in their 10 matches of the final Asian qualification stage and conceded only two goals in finishing seven points clear of second-placed South Korea.

Carlos Queiroz, a former Real Madrid coach and second in command to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, has been in charge since 2011 and that continuity could help Iran to fare better than their status as outsiders for this group suggests.

Sardar Azmoun (left) in action for Iran (Getty Images)
Key man: Sardar Azmoun

Known as ‘the Iranian Messi’, Azmoun stands considerably taller than the Argentine maestro to whom he is compared and has a similarly impressive international goalscoring strike-rate – 22 in 30 matches for his country at the end of 2017.

He turned 23 on New Year’s Day and currently with Russian club Rubin Kazan, he will get the chance to play at his home stadium when Iran take on Spain in their second group match.

Group B betting tip

It is difficult to see anything other than Spain and Portugal finishing in the top two positions to qualify for the last 16 because they should both outclass Morocco and Iran whatever happens after the European duo face off in their opening match in Sochi.

But in terms of finishing bottom of the quartet, Morocco’s reliance on being strong defensively could mean them not scoring many goals and if Iran can get something from their opening clash with the North Africans, they may be able to achieve enough against the big guns to clinch third spot.

Recommended bet: Morocco to finish bottom @ 11/8 with Coral


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World Cup 2018 Group B Preview: Spain and Portugal likely to dominate

World Cup 2018 Group B preview. Spain and their neighbours Portugal are red-hot favourites to qualify at the expense of Morocco and Iran.

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