News Article

FIFA World Cup 2018: Group B Preview

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

Advertisement

European heavyweights Spain and Portugal are hot favourites to get out of this group.

Group B of the FIFA World Cup is composed of some real powerhouses and some dark-horses who shouldn't be written off just yet. While European heavyweights in Spain and Portugal lead the line in the group, Morrocco and Iran themselves were impressive in the qualification stages and will pose a real threat to them. So, let us take a quick guide to the intriguing Group B.

Portugal



Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (18th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Third Place at England 1966,

Manager: Fernando Santos

Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo

FIFA Ranking: 4

Likely Formation: 4-3-3

Road to World Cup

Portugal also had a very comfortable qualification stage after winning the UEFA Euro 2016 and topping Group B from the UEFA Confederation to qualify for Russia 2018. Captain Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 goals in their qualification campaign, which saw them only lose a single match to Switzerland. But, they managed to defeat the Swiss in the return fixture, allowing them to directly qualify for the World Cup.

Manager

Fernando Santos has been a highly prolific coach for Portugal in his years in management and has really changed how they are looked upon by the footballing world. Even though Santos' defensive approach is often criticized, he's shown amazing ability to pull out key victories and played a huge part in Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph two years ago.

Santos also made them play pretty well in the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, finishing third.

Squad

Players to Watch

Portugal will again bank on captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who had another amazing season for Real Madrid in which he scored a lot of goals. Ronaldo was highly influential during their success in France two years ago and will want to further cement his name as one of football's greatest by lifting the World Cup.

They will also hope that Bernardo Silva can perform consistently during the World Cup. Silva has been pretty good at the creative end for Portugal and will be responsible for creating chances for his side.

The thing which won Portugal the Euros in 2016 was their rock-solid defense, which will again be led by Pepe. The 35-year-old is an influential figure for the team and will need to marshal his troops well for them to be an extremely difficult side to beat.

SWOT Analysis


Spain

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (23rd overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Winners at South Africa 2010,

Manager: Julen Lopetegui

Captain: Sergio Ramos

FIFA Ranking: 8

Likely Formation: 4-3-3

Road to World Cup

Spain had an extremely dominant qualifying phase which saw them top Group G in World Cup Qualifying. They didn't lose a single match out of the 10 they played, scoring 36 goals in their campaign and ousting heavyweights Italy to secure qualification to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Manager

Julen Lopetegui replaced Vicente del Bosque after a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign for La Roja, with many questioning the decision back then. But, it has proven to be a wise decision as the former Porto manager has seemingly gotten Spain back to the top of the mountain.

La Roja's impressive qualifying campaign proved that Lopetegui is doing all the right things with them. He's won the UEFA European U-19 and U-21 championships as manager of the Spanish youth teams in the past, but will aim to prove his ability and bring back the World Cup to his country.

Squad

Players to Watch

Spain's midfield has been the focal point for their success under Lopetegui and someone who has shone through for the manager is Isco, who has been an extremely influential figure recently. He scored five goals for La Roja during their World Cup qualification campaign and recently scored a hat-trick for them in a friendly match against Argentina. He seems to thrive in the free, attacking role for Spain and his impressive knack for turning up when it matters can help them achieve much success at the World Cup.

Along with him, David Silva has also been a terrific player under Loptegui and seemingly thrived under him. Silva had a terrific season for Manchester City in which he played an influential role in their success in the Premier League. He will look to continue his impressive form for La Roja.

Spain's leader Sergio Ramos is a man high on confidence after lifting his third successive Champions League title with Real Madrid and will need to replicate his amazing work for Spain and be the warrior which his country needs him to be at the World Cup.

SWOT Analysis



Morocco

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (18th overall) at France 1998,

Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 at Mexico 1986

Manager: Herve Renard

Captain: Mehdi Benatia

FIFA Ranking: 42

Likely Formation: 4-4-2

Road to World Cup

Morocco were the real surprise package of the CAF qualification group stages as they didn't lose a single game in a group with Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Mali. They defied expectations to quite comfortably qualify for the World Cup by topping their group and conceding not a single goal in their six games.

Despite having a slow start, Morocco defeated Ivory coast, in the end, to finish on top of their group and book a place in their first FIFA World Cup in two decades.

Manager

Herve Renard has been the brains behind the development of Morocco and after taking over in 2016. He did quite the spectacular job with them. Renard made them into a defensively solid team and motivated them to go all the way in the qualification stages.

The tactician has done a stunning job in bringing Morocco to their first World Cup in twenty years and knowing his impressive experience as a top-level manager, he'll make sure they give formidable competition to the "big" teams at the World Cup.

Squad

Players to Watch

Morocco will be looking towards their captain Mehdi Benatia to lead them to success during the World Cup, with the defender having the experience of playing on the "biggest stages."  Benatia had a decent season with Juventus and will need to marshal his troops and be an inspiration for them by leading by example.

They will also need their other experienced player in Younes Belhanda to prove his ability and be the creative force for the team. Belhanda is a powerful midfielder with the ability to charge his team on and will need to create chances for them to make a mark.

Belhanda will also want to form a dangerous partnership with Ayoub El Kaabi, who's been a revelation for Morocco in the past few years. He's scored 10 goals in eight appearances for them and will need to continue his clinical goalscoring form.

SWOT Analysis

 


Iran

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage(28th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage (14th overall) at Argentina 1978,

Manager: Carlos Queiroz,

Captain: Ashkan Dejagah

FIFA Ranking: 36

Likely Formation: 4-4-2

Road to World Cup

Iran proved their mettle during the qualification stages for the World Cup, where they comfortably topped their group in the second round of qualifying. They didn't lose a single of the eight games they played, scoring 26 goals in those games as well. Iran continued their dominance in the third round, where despite having tough opposition such as South Korea and Syria, they became the third team to book a place at the World Cup after Brazil and hosts Russia.

Manager

Carlos Queiroz is someone who is well-known among football fans for his stints at Manchester United and Real Madrid in the past and to say that he's done a phenomenal job with Iran would be an understatement. Queiroz has definitely helped speed up their development, taking them to two consecutive World Cups and making them a dominant team in Asian football since taking over in 2011.

Queiroz has improved their attacking prowess which was lacking during the 2014 World Cup and will want to have a better outing, despite having formidable opponents in Spain and his native Portugal in their group.

Squad

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand, Seyed Hossein Hosseini, Rashid Mazaheri, Amir Abedzadeh.

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian, Voria Ghafouri, Steven Beitashour, Seyed Jalal Hosseini, Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh, Morteza Pouraliganji, Mohammad Ansari, Pejman Montazeri, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Milad Mohammadi, Omid Norafkan, Saeid AGhaei, Roozbeh Cheshmi.

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Ahmad Abdolahzadeh, Saman Ghoddos, Mahdi Torabi, Ashkan Dejagah, Omid Ebrahimi, Ehsan Hajsafi, Ali Karimi, Soroush Rafiei, Ali Gholizadeh, Vahid Amiri.  

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Mahdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Kaveh Rezaei.

Players to Watch

Iran might be the "minnows" of the group, but they have some really talented individuals in the team and the spotlight will be on Alireza Jahanbaksh, who had a terrific season in the Eredivisie. He scored 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar and became the first Asian player to be the top goalscorer in a European top flight season. Jahanbaksh will look to prove his talent on the biggest stage in the World Cup and will look to introduce himself to the footballing world by continuing his amazing goalscoring form.

Striker Sardar Azmoun will also be a player to look out for knowing his  impressive record for the national team. Azmoun has a lot of experience in playing in Russia as he plays for Rubin Kazan at club level and will look to use that to his advantage.

But, someone like Ehsan Hajsafi needs to perform for Iran for them to cause an upset in their group as the midfielder has proven to be a versatile player for them. He has the ability to slot in anywhere in midfield and even in defense for his national team and can motivate his team with his tireless nature.

SWOT Analysis


Matches

15 June - Morocco vs Iran, 8:30 pm
15 June - Portugal vs Spain, 11:30 pm
20 June - Portugal vs Morocco, 5:30 pm
20 June - Iran vs Spain, 11:30 pm
25 June - Iran vs Portugal, 11:30 pm
25 June - Spain vs Morocco, 11:30 pm

What To Expect

Everyone will have their eyes peeled on European giants Spain and Portugal in Group B, but neither Morocco nor Iran should be discarded just yet. While the free-flowing, beautiful football of the Europeans will dazzle many, the African and Asian nations have worked very hard to get where they are. They will not back down without a fight and can make things very difficult for the Europeans, which will mean that La Roja and Portugal will have to grind their way through the group.

The Spain Vs Portugal match-up will get viewers from all around the world, but Morocco and Iran will both want to make a statement in the World Cup. We'll probably see a really attacking, aggressive brand of football in this group, but don't be surprised if either of the European giants are ousted by the "minnows" in Group B.

Published: Wed May 30, 2018 12:07 PM IST

Advertisement

Welcome to Khel Now!