World Cup Group B Preview: Spain and Portugal Will Showdown in a Top-Heavy Group
By Jason Lisk
Group B is highlighted by the Iberian showdown between Spain and Portugal. The expectation is that both will advance out of the group, and it would be quite a stunner if either Morocco or Iran beat out either of them.
Previous 2018 World Cup Group Breakdowns:
CRISTIANO RONALDO, PORTUGAL
Cristiano Ronaldo is still one of the best players in the world, and as he goes, so goes Portugal. Portugal has also achieved their greatest heights on the national stage. They won the Euro championship two years ago, and are looking for a rebound after being eliminated in the group stage at the World Cup in 2014 by the United States. He will no doubt provide many a notable moment in Russia.
SERGIO RAMOS, SPAIN
Sergio Ramos captains both Real Madrid and Spain, and seems like he has been around forever, which, well, he has since debuting with the full Spanish national team before his 20th birthday. (He has over 150 appearances with Spain, and counting). He enters the tournament somewhat controversially, having been involved in the play that injured Mo Salah of Liverpool (Egypt) in the Champions League final.
Ramos is one of the best defenders in the world and has been named to the UEFA Team of the Year seven different times.
ANDRES INIESTA, SPAIN
Is he still the force that he was? No, but Andres Iniesta, who played his last game at Barcelona this month, will have one last swan song with the Spanish national team before moving professionally to Japan. He’s been one of the key figures in both Spain and Barcelona’s run of dominance earlier this decade, and can still be a central figure for a talented Spanish squad transitioning to the next generation on the world stage.
World Cup Finals Appearances: 6
Best Finishes: Semifinals- 1966 and 2006
FIFA World Rank: 3
Portugal, and not Spain, was in the top pool of seeded teams for this World Cup. They will be fired up to meet their Iberian neighbors in the opener. While Ronaldo is the star, this is a team that has plenty of talent up front with youngsters Joao Mario and Andre Silva. The expectation coming in has to be a quarterfinal appearance and then see where things go, as they will get one of the two teams advancing from Group A.
World Cup Finals Appearances: 14
Best Finishes: Champions – 2010; Semifinals- 1950; Quarterfinals- 1986, 1994, 2002
FIFA World Rank: 8
Spain will be looking to rebound from a disastrous 2014 campaign where they were eliminated before the third match, when trying to defend their 2010 title. They’ll do so with a mostly veteran squad including Iniesta, Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, David Silva, and Diego Costa. Spain had a reputation for World Cup disappointment and being the best team to never win a title, something they shattered with their amazing six-year run of dominance from 2008 to 2012 when they won two European titles and the World Cup. Since then, it’s been a return to the prior disappointments over the last two cycles. They have the ability to win it all, but not reaching at least the quarterfinals would be a massive disappointment.
World Cup Finals Appearances: 4
Best Finishes: Group Stage in 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014
FIFA World Rank: 34
Americans will remember the only previous World Cup win for Iran, back in the 1998 World Cup, as they look to defy the odds and reach the knockout stage for the first time ever. Iran is the highest ranked team in Asia and came out of their group 7 points ahead of South Korea. They also are appearing in the World Cup in consecutive tournaments for the first time ever, and four years ago, frustrated Argentina in what was ultimately a 1-0 defeat, and also drew 0-0 with Nigeria. They will be led by Alireza Jahanbakhsh and forward Reza Ghoochannejhad (who scored the only goal in the last World Cup), who both play professionally in the Netherlands.
World Cup Finals Appearances: 4
Best Finishes: Round of 16 – 1986
FIFA World Rank: 48
Morocco is making their first appearance in the World Cup since 1998, after coming out of a group that included the Ivory Coast in qualifying. They are outsiders but have a team with individual quality playing in the biggest leagues in Europe. Team captain and center back Medhi Benatia plays for Juventus and has been recently linked to interest from Arsenal in a transfer. Hakim Ziyech, who has starred for Ajax, has been linked to both Everton and Liverpool, and has scored 8 goals in 15 matches for Morocco. They could surprise but the deck is stacked with both Portugal and Spain looming.
June 15- Morocco vs. Iran (St. Petersburg), 11 am ET/8 am PT
June 15- Spain vs. Portugal (Sochi), 2 pm ET/11 am PT
June 20- Portugal vs. Morocco (Moscow), 8 am ET/5 am PT
June 20- Iran vs. Spain (Kazan), 2 pm ET/11 am PT
June 25- Portugal vs. Iran (Saransk), 2 pm ET/11 am PT
June 25- Spain vs. Morocco (Kaliningrad), 2 pm ET/11 am PT
ALL ODDS TO WIN GROUP VIA ODDSCHECKER (PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO ADVANCE IN PARENTHESES)
SPAIN 8/15 (91%)
PORTUGAL 9/4 (75%)
MOROCCO 20/1 (20%)
IRAN 35/1 (13%)