As Russia prepares to open the festivities for this year’s World Cup, we’re going to preview each group and discuss the exciting match ups to come. Next up is Group B.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
International Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo leads this Portuguese squad into this year’s competition. After a somewhat surprising victory in the 2016 European Cup, the Portuguese are determined to repeat that success at the 2018 World Cup. Their run through qualifying was nearly flawless, as coach Fernando Santos lead his team of familiar faces through fixtures with Andorra, the Faroe Islands, and Hungary, edging out the Swiss to win their qualifying group on aggregate. They will round out their pre-tournament prep work against Algeria. In what many consider Ronaldo’s last chance at World Cup glory, the Portuguese face a seemingly inevitable battle with Spain to lead the group into the next round.
Spain finished atop their qualifying group with authority. Convincing wins in qualification included an 8-0 drubbing of Liechtenstein and a strong effort in a 3-0 victory against a powerhouse Italian side. “I wouldn’t want to face Spain at the 2018 World Cup” were the words of Lionel Messi, whom some consider the best footballer in the world, and I’m sure the other teams in this group feel the same way. With a star-studded roster including Isco, Sergio Ramos and David de Gea, Spain look like a serious threat to win it all again this year, matching a feat they were able to accomplish in 2010. With their final tune-up in Tunisia, the Spanish side looks ready and eager for their first match-up against the Portuguese.
Morocco makes their return to the tournament for the first time since 1998. After a 20 year absence, the Moroccan team is determined to make a statement, and their qualifying run was a good indication of their intentions. Morocco went undefeated in their qualifying matches, including a goalless draw and 2-0 victory over a strong Ivory Coast side. The Moroccans will rely heavily on Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia to control the back line as they will face the surging offence of both the Portuguese and Spanish squads. Morocco will be challenged to emerge from this group, but it is a possibility with a strong defensive effort. After their final pre-tournament game in Estonia, the Moroccan’s start their tournament against Iran who rounds out the group.
The Iranians were winners in their qualifying group. Conceding only two goals in ten qualifying matches, Iran was the strongest team to come out of the Asia qualifying group, on route to the nation’s fifth World Cup appearance. Under the guidance of the well established Carlos Queiroz, the Iranian squad has not seen a lot of offensive output, despite the presence of Sardar Azmoun. Azmoun has become one of the most dangerous strikers in Asia but will be challenged to display those abilities against the other teams in this group. Iran will be a long shot to finish in the top two of group B, but given their pre-tournament efforts, it is a possibility.