Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
When the draw was made and even after the first round of group games, there was a feeling that Spain and Portugal would both progress from Group B. However the two Iberian giants both went through their fair share of nervy moments on Wednesday to secure 1-0 wins with the help of the odd slice of good fortune.
There is still plenty of life in the group heading into match-day three but Spain will simply be glad to get out of Kazan and back to their base in Krasnodar with their first win on the board and on top of Group B. In the context of a World Cup that started in crisis with their coach sacked on the eve of the tournament, they will certainly take that situation two games in but the clash with Iran would certainly have left new boss Fernando Hierro with plenty to think about.
Read more: Can Fernando Hierro steady the Spanish ship?
A Frustrating First Half
It didn’t take a genius to work out how the Spain-Iran clash was likely to pan out. As a fairly defensive side, not to mention one that had won their opening game, Iran were always going to sit very deep and try to hold the Spanish off for as long as possible. The First Half went exactly to script and in some respects was the most one-sided 45 minutes of the entire tournament to date. Iran completed just 49 passes, the second lowest in a half at the World Cup since 1966 (the lowest figure was also by Carlos Quieroz’s Iran in 2014 against Argentina). Spain were in complete control of the game, almost permanently camped in the opposing half but for all their patient build-up play, they didn’t look like scoring.
Hierro had opted to make two changes from what was an impressive opening day performance against Portugal. Nacho, who scored a cracker in that game, lost his place to the fit-again Dani Carvajal. That was expected but the decision to bring in Lucas Vazquez for Koke raised a few eyebrows. It caused a midfield shift which saw David Silva move into a central role with the Real Madrid man coming in out wide. It was an alteration that was perhaps unnecessary given how balanced Spain had looked in the opening match. Meanwhile the likes of Iago Aspas or Marco Asensio would have been more positive additions in a game that was always likely to be ‘attack versus defence’.
It was slow, methodical and often predictable from Spain in the First Half and too easy for Iran to defend against. There was virtually no space for Vazquez to run into and perhaps the first big call of the Hierro reign, already looked to have largely back-fired.
Fortunate Costa Goal seals Win
To give Hierro some credit, Spain came out after the interval with more purpose and a greater tempo but almost out of nowhere his team were very nearly behind as Karim Ansarifard’s drive found the side netting from inside the box. It was a bit of a wake-up call for what had been a largely redundant Spanish defence until that point in a game where the almost unthinkable prospect of a defeat would have all but eliminated La Roja from the World Cup on just its seventh day.
That fact, coupled with an equally early exit four years ago, was perhaps the reason why Spain were airing on the side of caution with their approach. However just minutes later, a moment of real good fortune saw the ball ricochet off Diego Costa’s knee and into the back of the Iranian net to give Spain the goal that would ultimately settle the game. It was further proof that the Atletico Madrid striker’s luck appears to be changing in terms of his international career and in the circumstances, La Roja were happy to settle for one of their scrappiest ever World Cup goals.
Predictably the game opened up after that and while few could argue Spain didn’t deserve their victory, rival sides in Russia would have taken encouragement from some of their late defending. Crosses into the box caused problems and more clinical opponents may well have made Spain pay on a night that posed more questions than answers for Fernando Hierro.
Read more: A turning point for Diego Costa
Work to do against Morocco
Spain’s final game is against a Morocco side that has already been eliminated and is yet to even pick up a point but they are better than that record suggests. In truth, they should have got results from both of their two openings games and to some extent they might just be the unluckiest team so far at the 2018 World Cup.
Not dissimilar to Iran, they perhaps lack a natural finisher but they posed problems for Portugal on Wednesday whilst also showing they are organised at their own end of the pitch. With nothing left to lose, Morocco will be hungry to upset their near neighbours from across the Mediterranean Sea and may just be prepared to take greater risks than Iran who clearly had their hearts set on a point.
It will be interesting to see how Fernando Hierro opts to go in that game. Resting Andres Iniesta may be one option given the volume of games the 34 year old will have to get through over the remainder of the tournament should Spain advance into the deep end of it. Certainly Spain could do with some energy and greater attacking bite, so the likes of Aspas and Asensio could play a greater role while Thiago, who started 7 of Spain’s 10 qualifiers, is also a strong candidate for a start.
Read more: Group B Analysis
A tougher than expected last sixteen tie?
While Morocco, may also prove to be no walkover, Spain should progress to the last sixteen but that particular hurdle suddenly looks a whole lot tougher than it did a week ago. Before the tournament, Spain would have quite fancied their chances of winning the group and then most likely facing either Egypt or Russia, the lowest ranked side in the whole tournament.
However the host nation have looked far better than anyone expected them to be with 8 goals and two convincing wins ensuring their place in the next stage. Spain have bad memories from 2002 where they were knocked out by unfancied hosts South Korea and might fear a repeat and would at the very least have a very hostile atmosphere to deal with should they land a much-improved Russia in the next stage.
The alternative is Uruguay, who have hardly thrilled so far but they’ve been more impressive defensively than Spain with La Liga stalwarts Diego Godin and José Giménez more than familiar with the task of shutting down the attacking talents Spain possess. With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani at the other end, they are the sort of team that can always nick a goal and whether it’s Uruguay or Russia in the last sixteen, Spain will need to perform better at both ends of the pitch than they did on Wednesday night.
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