Portugal and Spain both kick off their World Cup campaigns on Friday 7pm (UK time) in the second day of the 2018 Russia World Cup.
With the other sides in their group being Iran and Morocco, this game is likely to decide the winner of the group so both sides will be keen to win and get themselves in a good place for a favorable Round of 16 draw, should they go on and win the group.
The match will be the first between the two neighbours since the 2012 Euros, where Spain edged past Portugal in the Semi Finals on penalties after a goalless draw.
Qualifying was a lot more comfortable for Spain than it was Portugal. 9 wins and a draw meant going in to the final match they were comfortably through, whereas Portugal needed to beat Switzerland. They did overcome the Swiss to leapfrog their opponents in to top spot and book their place in Russia 2018.
It will be Portugal’s first match in a major tournament since their stunning Euro 2016 victory, when they beat France in their own backyard thanks to Eder’s goal in extra time. Portugal will be dreaming of another major tournament success and an exact same repeat of what happened two years ago this time around.
Spain on the other hand will be looking to bounce back after two massively disappointing major tournaments in a row. After the embarrassment of getting knocked out in the groups after just two games in Brazil 2014, they were knocked out to Italy in the Round of 16 two years ago in the Euros. This coming after two successive major tournaments victories in 2010 and 2012 was awful and shocking for Spain and will be expecting a Semi Final finish at the very minimum this year.
Spain’s manager crisis
One of the biggest talking points will no doubt be the incredible decision from Spain to sack their manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before the crunch match. This comes after he was named the new Real Madrid boss for next season just three days before the opening match against Portugal.
The Spanish football federation explained that the decision was made because the 51-year-old’s negotiation with Real occurred ‘without any information to the RFEF (Spanish football federation).’ They announced not long after that Spain sporting director Fernando Hierro will take charge for the World Cup.
The decision will no doubt cause a lot of controversy and will go down as either a superb and brave decision or poor and stupid decision depending on how the Spaniards do in Russia.
Portugal have played seven friendlies since booking their spot in Russia and have had mixed results. They picked up good wins over Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. However, a heavy defeat at home to Netherlands who failed to even qualify and a couple of disappointing draws suggests they don’t look like one of the front runners to lift the World Cup.
Spain have played six friendlies since qualifying for the World Cup and despite being unbeaten since then with three wins and three draws, draws with Russia and Switzerland may set alarm bells ringing. But a 6-1 demolition of Argentina will give them hope. But will that mean anything with the last minute managerial change?
Most would have had Spain winning the group and possibly nicking this match about a week ago. But with the whole managerial situation this becomes almost impossible to predict. Most would say Spain have a stronger squad but with the new manager only being in charge for two days, it’s tough to know how much that will affect Spain’s performance. My guess is it will, a lot, meaning Portugal will pick up the win in my opinion.
Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Spain