Sport

World Cup Group B Preview: An Iberian derby will likely decide the group 

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is less than a week away and as we gear up for the tournament, we’ll look at what we can expect from group B. The Group which has become a bit of a group of death includes European champions Portugal, the 2010 World Cup winners Spain, Morocco and Iran. 

We’ll start by looking at the 2016 European champions, Portugal. The Portuguese seemed to still be suffering from a hangover from Euro 2016 when their World Cup qualifiers got underway with a 2-0 loss against Switzerland. However, they won every game in the qualifying group after that, finishing top of their group on goal difference.  

There are no prizes for guessing the top goal scorer of the qualifying group as Cristiano Ronaldo netted 15 goals to help Portugal finish top. The Real Madrid forward has been in spectacular form over the last few years, for club and country and could make a massive difference in group B. Portugal have only lost three games since being crowned European champions nearly two years ago. 

Despite making 77 caps for Portugal, 34-year-old Ricardo Quaresma has never played at a World Cup and will do so for the first time in Russia. There wasn’t any room in the squad, however, for Luis Nani and Euro 2016 final goalscorer Eder who both miss out. 

With Portugal in good form heading into the World Cup, Spain will have to be in excellent form, in order to finish top of this group. The Spanish team are in transition it seems. Their defence of their World Cup title in 2014 was very disappointing after being eliminated in the group stage of the tournament. They did slightly better in Euro 2016 reaching the last 16 of the competition but could not win it for a third time in a row. 

Spain qualified top of their group and were unbeaten, winning nine and drawing one of their 10 games. Their group also included Italy who they beat in Spain and drew with Turin. Diego Costa, Isco, David Silva and Alvaro Morata all netted five goals each in the qualifying campaign. While Manchester United shot stopper David De Gea picked up seven clean sheets. 

Spain are also in great form heading into the World Cup being unbeaten in nineteen games with their last loss coming against France at Euro 2016. Big names such as Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas missed out in being named in the 23 man squad which also sees no Alvaro Morata. 22-year-old Marco Asensio is named in the squad to make his first appearance at a World Cup. 

The African nation of Morocco will be making their fifth appearance at a World Cup in Russia and will be hoping to cause some sort of upset as they will look to dislodge either Spain or Portugal from the top two spots in the group. This is their first appearance at the World Cup for twenty years as they last qualified in 1998. 

Morocco were given a bye to the second round of the CAF qualifying process due to being ranked among the top 27 African countries in the world. In the second round, they beat Equatorial Guinea 2-1 over two legs. In the third round, Morocco came top of the group that included Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Mali. A major achievement for Morocco as the Ivory Coast were favourites to qualify from the group. The 23-man-squad for the World Cup have plenty of caps (528) between them, however, goals are a bit scarcer as the squad can only boast 47 goals. That being said, they are in good form as they are unbeaten in nine games including six clean sheets. 

The last team in Group B is Iran. The Iranians are also making their fifth appearance at the World Cup. They also managed to qualify for the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014 where they finished bottom of their Group in the first round.  

Being the top-ranked Asian confederation team, Iran received a bye to the second round of the qualifying process. In the second round, they topped the group that consisted of Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam, and India winning six and drawing two of the eight games. In the third round, they remained unbeaten topping Group A that included South Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, China, and Qatar. Sardar Azmoun was Iran’s top goal scorer in the third round with four goals. 

Iran’s form leading up to the World Cup has been decent enough winning nine of their last 14 games. The countries two current top goal scorers Karim Ansarifard and Reza Ghoochannejhad are included in the 23 man squad. 

When looking at this group, going on reputation and quality of football you’d have to say both Portugal and Spain are shoe in’s to get through this group, however, if you were to go on form leading into the World Cup, it’s anyone’s group to take. In all seriousness though, it would be a massive shock if either of Spain or Portugal were not to make it through this group. Ronaldo has not had a great track record in World Cups only scoring three goals across three separate World Cups.  

Portugal vs Spain will be one of the matches of the group stage as it will more likely determine who will top the group and get the easier game in the last 16 of the tournament. The group gets underway on the 15th June with Morocco vs Iran before the potential group decider later that day.