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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 Iran

football Updated: Jun 06, 2018 11:38 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times
FIFA World Cup 2018,Spain national football team,Portugal national football team
Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal head into the FIFA World Cup in Russia on the back of an impressive qualifying campaign.(AP)

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.

Also read: Goal net from Brazil’s FIFA World Cup 2014 horror show sold for charity

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.

GROUP B
IRAN
Qualified four times; best – group stage
1978, 1998, 2006, 2014
Qualifying route: Rd 1 – bye; Rd 2 – Gr D winners (W6 D2 L0); Rd 3 – Gr A winners (W6 D4 L0)
CARLOS QUEIROZ
Head coach
(L-R) Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun, Saeid Ezatolahi
SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Alireza Beiranvand, Rashid Mazaheri, Amir Abedzadeh
DEFENDERS: Ramin Rezaeian, Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh, Morteza Pouraliganj, Ehsan Hajsafi, Pejman Montazeri, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Milad Mohammadi, Roozbeh Cheshmi
MIDFIELDERS: Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Mahdi Torabi, Omid Ebrahimi, Vahid Amiri
FORWARDS: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Mahdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Saman Ghoddos, Ashkan Dejagah
MOROCCO
Qualified four times: best - Round of 16
1986
Qualifying 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)
HERVE RENARD
Head coach
(L-R) Karim El Ahmadi, Medhi Benatia, Hakim Ziyech
SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Munir Mohamedi, Yassine Bounou, Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti
DEFENDERS: Medhi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Manuel Da Costa, Badr Benoun, Nabil Dirar, Achraf Hakimi, Hamza Mendyl
MIDFIELDERS: M’bark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Youssef Ait Bennasser, Sofyan Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, Faycal Fajr, Amine Harit
FORWARDS: Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi, Nordin Amrabat, Mehdi Carcela, Hakim Ziyech
PORTUGAL
Qualified six times;best – third place
1966
Qualifying route: UEFA Group B winners (W9 D0 L1)
FERNANDO SANTOS
Head coach
(L-R) Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva
SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Anthony Lopes, Beto, Rui Patricio
DEFENDERS: Bruno Alves, Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte, Mario Rui, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Ricardo Pereira, Ruben Dias
MIDFIELDERS: Adrien Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, Manuel Fernandes, William Carvalho
FORWARDS: Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gelson Martins, Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma
SPAIN
Qualified 14 times: best – champions
2010
Qualifying route: UEFA Group G winners (W9 D1 L0)
JULEN LOPETEGUI
Head coach
(L-R) David Silva, David de Gea, Isco
SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: David de Gea, Pepe Reina, Kepa Arrizabalaga
DEFENDERS: Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Odriozola, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nacho, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jordi Alba, Nacho Monreal
MIDFIELDERS: Sergio Busquets, Saul Niquez, Koke, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta, David Silva
FORWARDS: Isco, Marcio Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo, Diego Costa
Photos: AFP/Reuters/GettyImages | Graphics: HITESH MATHUR

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)

First Published: Jun 06, 2018 11:37 IST