Tuesday Jun 05, 2018. 15:34
2018 World Cup, Group B
Dates – 15-25 June, 2018
Venues – Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Moscow, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad
Spain and Portugal are tipped to dominate Group B at the 2018 World Cup, though Morocco and Iran will have genuine hope of ruffling some Iberian feathers in a pool which could prove more open and unpredictable than initially expected.
Spain, as 2010 World Cup winners, are the favourites in the group and their powerful performance in qualifying – where they went unbeaten and ultimately forced Italy into a failed bid to reach the finals through the playoffs – certainly backs this up. Coach Julen Lopetegui can call on a vastly talented group of players, which includes the likes of Sergio Ramos, David De Gea, David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Diego Costa.
Yet their first opponents, Iberian rivals Portugal, could prove a major stumbling block in their opening game in Sochi on June 15. The 2016 European champions boast one of the greatest players of all time in Cristiano Ronaldo and the Real Madrid forward comes into the tournament on the back of yet another prolific season in which he spearheaded ‘Los Blancos’ to a third successive UEFA Champions League title.
The Iberian theme continues with Iran, who are coached by Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz. Just reaching the 2018 finals – which involved Team Melli going unbeaten in their group in the Asian qualifiers – is a major achievement, but the Middle Eastern country will believe they can do even better than that. Iran boast some talented players, including Russian-based striker Sardar Azmoun, but they are certainly a team which can claim to be greater than the sum of their parts.
And the same can be said of African representatives Morocco. The Atlas Lions are returning to the World Cup for the first time since France 1998 and in coach Herve Renard they have a man who knows how to excel in international competitions.
He boasts two Africa Cup of Nations titles (with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015) and his talented team has a good mix of experienced warriors (Medhi Benatia, Mbark Boussoufa and Karim El Ahmadi) and exciting prospects (Amine Harit, Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech), though the major worry is a lack of a prolific scorer. Locally-based striker Ayoub El Kaabi enjoyed a goal-laden African Nations Championship (CHAN) earlier this year, but expecting him to repeat that at World Cup level is probably unrealistic.
Group B fixtures (all times CAT)
15 June 2018, 17h00 – Morocco v Iran – Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
15 June 2018, 20h00 – Portugal v Spain – Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
20 June 2018, 14h00 – Portugal v Morocco – Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
20 June 2018, 20h00 – Iran v Spain – Kazan Arena, Kazan
25 June 2018, 20h00 – Iran v Portugal – Mordovia Arena, Saransk
25 June 2018, 20h00 – Spain v Morocco – Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Group B head-to-heads (as per FIFA stats database, in reference to ‘home’ team)
Morocco v Iran – P1 W0 D1 L0 GF0 GA0
Portugal v Spain – P35 W6 D13 L16 GF41 GA72
Portugal v Morocco – P1 W0 D0 L1 GF1 GA3
Iran v Spain – No previous matches
Iran v Portugal – P2 W0 D0 L2 GF0 GA5
Spain v Morocco – P2 W2 D0 L0 GF4 GA2