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2018 World Cup preview: Group B

Portugal

Squad

Manager: Fernando Santos

World Cup
Portugal Starting XI. Photo from FIFA

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica)

Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting)

Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas)

FIFA Ranking: 4

Odds to Win: 28/1

Preview

Portugal is a strong team coming into this World Cup. They are the reigning European champions and are on quite a run. They finished qualifying with nine wins in 10 matches and 32 goals through those games. Obviously they have a strong attacker up front in Cristiano Ronaldo, however, the quality on this team goes beyond that. Ricardo Quaresma, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva and Gelson Martins are all strong attacking options as well. In addition, Portugal has two strong midfield players in Moutinho and Carvalho.

Their defenders are what worries me most. They have some serviceable defenders, however, they are aging and could be a liability. Manager Fernando Santos runs a very well organized squad and will try to tactically minimize the risk on the backend. Ronaldo will be given the freedom to be creative and make chances for the team.

All in all, Portugal is a very strong team that got unlucky with the draw. Which means they could end up only finishing in second place. That being said, a win against Spain wouldn’t be incredibly shocking and would set Portugal up to finish in first place barring disaster.

Spain

Squad

Manager: Julen Lopetegui

World Cup
Spain Starting XI. Photo from 9sportpro.

Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)

Defenders: Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Isco (Real Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City).

Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid)

FIFA Ranking: 10

Odds to Win: 6/1

Preview

Spain is, of course, an immensely talented team. They are one of the tournament favorites and rightfully so. They scored 34 goals through their 10 qualifying matches and looked very dominant in doing so. Spain is looking much more like the team that dominated ten years ago and ended up amassing two Euro titles to go along with a 2010 World Cup win. They don’t have quite that quality on this team, but they have a good quality coach, as well as lots of versatile players that can play a lot of formations and gobble up possession in matches.

Spain shouldn’t have too much trouble winning this group unless they lose their game versus Portugal. Don’t look for a World Cup meltdown like last time. Spain will make it out of the group stage in this tournament.

Morocco

Squad

Manager: Hervé Renard

World Cup
Morocco’s national team. Photo by Fadel Senna/Getty Images.

Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Istanbul Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille)

Midfielders: M’barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke)

Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga)

FIFA Ranking: 41

Odds to Win: 500/1

Preview

Morocco is not a bad team by any odds. That being said, they got very unlucky being in a group with both Spain and Portugal. With only two spots available to move on, Morocco would have to upset one of the powerful teams favored over them. It is unlikely they can do so, but this Moroccan team is very well organized, strong defensively and shouldn’t be underestimated by anyone.

The real problem with Morocco is that they lack quality up front scoring goals. The strikers in this squad played terribly in qualifying. If you exclude the two games against Mali and Gabon, who are terrible, the three strikers on the team combined for two goals in four games. Which is… not very good.

Overall, it is hard to envision this Moroccan team keeping up with Spain or Portugal offensively. Their best chance against Spain is to score an early goal and try to defend well and play the counter-attack. Against Portugal, they have a shot but will need to keep the ball away from Ronaldo which is easier said than done. Expect Morocco to put up a couple good fights and most likely beat Iran.

Iran

Squad

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

World Cup
Iran’s National Team. Photo from the Financial Tribune.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest)

FIFA Ranking: 37

Odds to Win: 500/1

Preview

Iran is the weakest team in one of the strongest groups. They are a well organized and tactically sound team similar to Morocco. They had a very good run in qualifying remaining unbeaten for 18 matches. In addition, they only conceded five goals through those games.

The issue for Iran is that they are unable to open up their formation and play attacking football because their less talented players could be exposed one on one, especially against high-quality teams like Spain and Portugal. There are teams Iran would beat in this tournament, just not in this group. The best case scenario is that they beat Morocco, a similar albeit more talented squad.

Iran won’t be rolled over in any of their games, but don’t bet on them to win any either.

Prediction

Group B will come down to Spain and Portugal. Spain is more likely to earn the first spot with Portugal coming in second. Third in the group should be Morocco with Iran in the last spot. Spain has a good chance at winning the whole World Cup and Portugal could be a darkhorse contender as well coming off a European Cup win.

 

Featured image by FIFA

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