Resilient Iran up against seasoned Portugal in Group B's winner-takes-all battle
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
A draw should do for the European champions but the Asians need a win to qualify.
Everything is at stake in the last round of matches in Group B of the FIFA World Cup 2018, but for Iran and Portugal, winning is the absolute necessity for them to ensure a future in the tournament. While a draw should still help Portugal go over the line, Iran have to win the match in order to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in their history.
Portugal will themselves also be looking to win, mostly through a big margin that could help them pip Spain (who face Morocco at the same time) to winning Group B. Cristiano Ronaldo seems like a man on a mission and will not only look to add to his tally of goals, but also make sure his team safely reaches the knockout stages. Iran will definitely have to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they're to dethrone the European champions and with all at stake, this match will be an exciting conclusion to the group.
About the teams
Iran found themselves cursing lady luck when they were narrowly beaten by Spain in the earlier matchday. It was a match which could've easily gone either way, but Carlos Queiroz's men were extremely unlucky to concede a terrible goal (luckily taken by Diego Costa) and later watching the VAR cruelly denying them a point after they had equalized.
Young winger Alireza Jahanbaksh was a threat after coming on as a substitute against Spain, but should be given the nod to start this time around. Along with Sardar Azmoun, he needs to come up with the goods for Iran in order for his side to threaten the often shaky defense of Portugal.
Queiroz will likely go with the same 4-2-3-1 formation he played against Spain but should bring in the attacking threat of Jahanbaksh to add a bit more energy upfront.
Portugal on the other hand, have been cruising mostly because of the brilliance of Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain looks unbelievably focused and experiecing the form of his career by scoring left, right and center. While they will definitely rely on Ronaldo to come up with magic once again for them, However, Portugal need to improve as a team and find the right balance in the starting XI.
It seems like Fernando Santos is having a bit of a headache deciphering the correct midfield core for his side. Portugal might have gotten a clean-sheet against Morocco, but they were on the end of some insane pressure from the African side. Raphael Guerrero looked particularly poor on the day, while their defense often had to be bailed out by the brilliant Rui Patricio.
Portugal will need to move into top gear now that the business end of the tournament is approaching and find the rhythm which helped them win the European Championships two years ago.
Santos will mostly go with the regular 4-4-2 formation he's been using throughout the World Cup, but the ineffective Joao Mario might be replaced by Bruno Fernandes or even Gelson Martins on the day. Portugal will need to win by a big margin to ensure a top spot in Group B and might play a more attacking brand of football.
The brand new Mordovia Arena will play host to the final match of the group. We can expect that its 44,000-strong capacity will be enough to make it an intense encounter, with fans from both sides cheering on their teams to win.
IR Iran: Ali Beiranvand; Ehsan Haji Safi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Ramin Rezaeian, Majid Hosseini; Saeid Ezatolahi, Vahid Amiri, Omid Ebrahimi, Karim Ansarifard, Mehdi Taremi; Sardar Azmoun
Portuga: Rui Patricio; Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Cedric Soares, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, Joao Mario; Goncalo Guedes, Cristiano Ronaldo
What To Expect:
The match might as well be the Ronaldo show again and because of how unbelievably focused the captain looks, he will definitely look to add to his tally. Ronaldo will be a constant menace for Iran, who might find the attacking prowess of Portugal which also includes Goncalo Guedes and Bernardo Silva, too hot to handle.
But with this World Cup producing all the surprises, this match might turn out to be the biggest surprise yet. Portugal will have to be wary of the threat of the likes of Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi, who could stun them with their attacking prowess.
Khel Now Predicts:
Iran 0-2 Portugal
Published: Sun Jun 24, 2018 07:08 PM IST