FIFA World Cup 2018: Iberian subplot adds twist to slippery Group B
Morocco go in as rank underdogs; Spain and Portugal will be looking to not slip up against IranUpdated: Jun 06, 2018 11:38 IST
Portugal won’t have good memories of their World Cup campaign four years back. Placed in one of the toughest groups, they began with a humiliating 4-0 loss to eventual champions Germany. The loss proved costly as they crashed out in goal difference after a 2-2 draw against USA and a 2-1 win over Ghana.
Fast forward to 2018, they again face a tough opening fixture against 2010 champions Spain on June 15.
Portugal however head into this tournament as reigning European champions and with a better pedigree than the side that crashed out in the group stages four years back.
Ronaldo has found a highly capable strike partner in AC Milan youngster Andre Silva. Most of the core members of the 2016 Euro-winning side are still in the team that has been bolstered by the likes of Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes.
Spain had also suffered the ignominy of a group stage exit as defending champions in 2014. Then in the 2016 European Championships, they failed to get past the Round of 16.
This time though, they are billed as one of the title favourites because of the abundance of talent. It boasts of one of the strongest midfields with old warhorses Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Busquets backed by the likes of Saul, Koke, Marco Asensio, Isco and Thiago.
The team that both Spain and Portugal will be hoping to avoid a slip-up against is the Iranian side coached by Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz.
Arguably the strongest team in Asia, the Iranian side boasts of a highly organised defence that formed the backbone of its campaign.
Saeid Ezatolahi, playing for Russia’s Amkar Perm, will be the team’s creative engine in midfield while Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun, one of Asia’s most highly-rated talents, is set to lead the line. In Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Iran have another highly effective attacking outlet.
1978, 1998, 2006, 2014Qualifying route: Rd 1 – bye; Rd 2 – Gr D winners (W6 D2 L0); Rd 3 – Gr A winners (W6 D4 L0)
GOALKEEPERS: Alireza Beiranvand, Rashid Mazaheri, Amir AbedzadehDEFENDERS: Ramin Rezaeian, Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh, Morteza Pouraliganj, Ehsan Hajsafi, Pejman Montazeri, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Milad Mohammadi, Roozbeh CheshmiMIDFIELDERS: Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Mahdi Torabi, Omid Ebrahimi, Vahid AmiriFORWARDS: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Mahdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Saman Ghoddos, Ashkan Dejagah
1986Qualifying route: Rd 1 – bye; Rd 2 – bt Equatorial Guinea 2-1 (2-0, 0-1) on aggr; Rd 3 – Gr C winners (W3 D3 L0)
GOALKEEPERS: Munir Mohamedi, Yassine Bounou, Ahmad Reda TagnaoutiDEFENDERS: Medhi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Manuel Da Costa, Badr Benoun, Nabil Dirar, Achraf Hakimi, Hamza MendylMIDFIELDERS: M’bark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Youssef Ait Bennasser, Sofyan Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, Faycal Fajr, Amine HaritFORWARDS: Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi, Nordin Amrabat, Mehdi Carcela, Hakim Ziyech
1966Qualifying route: UEFA Group B winners (W9 D0 L1)
GOALKEEPERS: Anthony Lopes, Beto, Rui PatricioDEFENDERS: Bruno Alves, Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte, Mario Rui, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Ricardo Pereira, Ruben DiasMIDFIELDERS: Adrien Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, Manuel Fernandes, William CarvalhoFORWARDS: Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gelson Martins, Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma
2010Qualifying route: UEFA Group G winners (W9 D1 L0)
GOALKEEPERS: David de Gea, Pepe Reina, Kepa ArrizabalagaDEFENDERS: Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Odriozola, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nacho, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jordi Alba, Nacho MonrealMIDFIELDERS: Sergio Busquets, Saul Niquez, Koke, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta, David SilvaFORWARDS: Isco, Marcio Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo, Diego Costa
Morocco, meanwhile, are rank underdogs. At the World Cup, Morocco will have their hands full against three strong sides.
Karim El Ahmadi, the team’s defensive midfield lynchpin, will be a crucial cog in the wheel for Herve Renard’s side. Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda, on the other hand, are two key creative forces in midfield.
Group B fixtures (all times IST)
15th June 8.30 pm: MOROCCO vs IRAN (St. Petersburg)
15th June 11.30 pm PORTUGAL vs SPAIN (Sochi)
20th June 5.30 pm: PORTUGAL vs MOROCCO (Moscow)
20th June 11.30 pm: IRAN vs SPAIN (Kazan)
25th June 11.30 pm: IRAN vs PORTUGAL (Saransk)
25th June 11.30 pm: SPAIN vs MOROCCO (Kaliningrad)