Internationals

World Cup Group B Preview

Group B looks to be pretty straight forward, with Portugal and Spain massive favorites to qualify. But will it be as simple as that?

Portugal

The 2016 Euro winners will be going in to their seventh World Cup and will be looking to follow up on their major tournament win two years ago. They won just one match in normal time during that tournament, but stunned Europe after finishing 3rd in their group. They showed the grit and determination they needed and will be looking for that again if they are to pull of another tournament shock.

Key Player

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal’s all time leading scorer netted 15 times in 9 matches during qualifying, and the five time Ballon D’or winner will be the one Portugal look to when in need of a goal.

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Manager

Fernando Santos

Santos’s organisation was crucial to Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph. He’s done a miraculous job since he took over since the ides defeat at home to Albania in 2014.

How they qualified

After losing their first match in qualifying away to Switzerland, them and the Swiss both won their next 8 games meaning it went down to the final game. Knowing a win would do the job in topping their group, they beat Switzerland 2-0 in Lisbon meaning they won Group B on goal difference and booked their place at the 2018 World Cup.

Morocco

Morocco will be competing in their first World Cup since 1998. Their best ever finish came in 1986 when they reached the last 16 and it’s safe to say if they were to repeat that it would be a massive achievement.

Key Player

Mehdi Benatia

Benatia ignored links to France and Algeria to become the soul of his Morocco team. He’s a experience and technically adept centre back, who is now also known as a hero for his humility as in 2017 he dropped himself as he’d lost his Juventus place saying he’s ‘not above the rules’.

Manager

Herve Renard

Herve is the first manager to win the Africa Cup of Nations with two different countries (Zambia and Ivory Coast) but this will be the first time he’s taking charge of a team at a World Cup.

How they qualified

The system in Africa for qualifying for the World Cup is simple. Sides are in a group of four and the winners qualify, any other position meaning it’s over. After three goalless draws in their first four games, the situation wasn’t looking good for Morrocco as they sat behind Ivory Coast. But a win in their penultimate group game meant a point in their last game against Ivory Coast saw them through. And a 2-0 win saw them through without conceding a goal in all of their qualifying matches.

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Iran

Qualification means Iran have reached consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. An extraordinary defensive record suggests in qualifying suggests they’ll again be a tough team to beat.

Key Player

Alizera Jahanbakhsh

The pacy winger showed last season he can score goals and provide plenty of good crosses for his Alkamaar teammates. He is a star player in the Dutch top flight and could be about to join a bigger club. Therefore the youngster will use this World Cup as the perfect opportunity to showcase what he can do.

Manager

Carlos Queiroz

The former Portugal manager will be looking forward to taking on his old team. He has good experience of the World Cup having managed Portugal in the 2010 World Cup and his current side Iran in the 2014 World Cup but has only won one match in both of those tournaments combined.

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How they qualified

After winning their second round qualifying group with ease, they then went undefeated in their third round qualifying group and finished top of Group A to qualify. Iran didn’t concede in the first nine of those matches, something they can take great confidence from and won six and drawing four of those third round qualifying matches.

Spain

After three consecutive major tournament wins, it’s been a torrid four years for Spain, after crashing out at the group in 2014, they were knocked out to Italy in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. They’ll be looking to bounce back and at least target the semi finals which would be a big improvement on the last four years.

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Key Player

Sergio Busquets

The 29 year old is vital to Spain’s system. He is superb at dictating the tempo of a game as well as controlling and passing quickly to give the forward thinking players freedom.

Manager

Julen Lopetegui 

Julen has been at the heart of Spain’s youth development for a decade and their tradition lives on. He will drop the big names if he needs to, something del Bosque never did.

How they qualified

Despite winning five of their first six qualifiers, Spain were still level on points with Italy going in to group game seven. But they made light work of the crunch match against the Italians, winning 3-0 and winning every game from there on to top Group G and secure their place at the World Cup.

Group Prediction

If Morocco or Iran are to win their opening game against each other and to then get a point in either of their matches against Spain or Portugal they may be able to get sneak through on goal difference. But it’s hard to look past the two clear favorites for the group here.

  1. Spain
  2. Portugal
  3. Iran
  4. Morocco

 

 

 

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