The World Cup is officially underway and group stage preview turns to Group B, featuring former world champions Spain and current European champions Portugal.
Perhaps the biggest group stage heavyweight clash comes in Group B, where Portugal and Spain will go head-to-head in their opening fixture.
They’ll be favourites to progress, but defeat in that first match could easily lead to an uphill task—particularly for Spain, who stunned the globe by sacking their manager one day before the finals kicked off.
Morocco present reasonable opponents from Africa, while Iran face a difficult task indeed.
Fixtures & UK TV Info
- Morocco vs. Iran – Saint Petersburg Stadium – 4pm, June 15 – ITV 1
- Portugal vs. Spain – Fisht Olympic Stadium – 7pm, June 15 – BBC One
- Portugal vs. Morocco – Luzhniki Stadium – 1pm, June 20 – BBC One
- Iran vs. Spain – Kazan Arena – 7pm, June 20 – ITV 1
- Iran vs. Portugal – Mordovia Arena – 7pm, June 25 – BBC Four
- Spain vs. Morocco – Baltika Stadium – 7pm, June 25 – BBC One
- Portugal trio Gelson Martins, Willian Carvalho & Bruno Fernandes all linked
- All three could be free agents this summer, leaving Sporting CP
- Ex-Reds Pepe Reina and Iago Aspas in the Spain squad
- Sardar Azmoun—the ‘Iranian Messi’—linked every time Iran have a notable fixture
The training ground madness resulting in Sporting’s players handing in notice of intent to cancel their contracts could yet result in one or more ending up at Anfield or the Premier League in general.
At the end of the last World Cup, Aspas left Liverpool after one season to join Sevilla on loan.
Anybody suggesting then that he could lead the Spanish national team’s attack at the next World Cup would have been laughed out of town—but here he is, with a great chance of playing a prominent role.
Reina is at his fourth World Cup finals, having played in 2010 and 2014 and being an unused sub at 2006.
Ones to Watch
Definitely keep an eye out for the Iranian Messi. Alright, maybe he’s not at Messi’s level. Or Salah’s. In fact, he scored five goals for Rubin Kazan this season. He’s now 23.
Do, however, watch out for Goncalo Guedes, an immense player from the wing or up front. He, Liverpool should go after.
A few players from Kyiv to avoid looking at for too long: Cristiano Ronaldo, six Spain players and Achraf Hakimi, an exciting young right-back for Morocco.
And their 24-year-old forward Ayoub El Kaabi has 11 goals in 10 caps!
More pertinently, how will the Spanish squad as a whole react to the sacking of Julen Lopetegui?
The players wanted him to stay, but the RFEF acted accordingly after Lopetegui agreed the Real Madrid job for after the finals.
All of a sudden, the group is up in the air.
Who Goes Through?
Very difficult to look beyond the obvious here: Spain and Portugal.
Only a complete lack of concentration, luck falling another team’s way or an implosion of self-belief from Portugal, maybe after an opening-game defeat, could possibly see another scenario play out.
But now they have to think they could top the group, utilising the circumstances around Spain to hammer home the point and attack a side lacking a leader.
Spain should still have enough to progress, but don’t forget they crashed out in the group stage in 2014. It could happen again after this debacle.
Of the other two, Morocco might think they stand an outside chance if they win their first game and Spain beat Portugal.
Frustrate them to a draw in the second match, and all the pressure transfers to the Euro 2016 winners in the final round of games.