Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
The second group at the 2018 World Cup contains the tournament’s first heavyweight meeting. Group B could go a long way to deciding the World Cup winner, with Spain and European champions Portugal in action. They clash on day two of the tournament, in one of the most anticipated meetings in the group stage.
The second pool of teams looks very top heavy, as Iran and Morocco round out the group. However, should one of the two big sides start with a defeat, then the others could supply some pressure. Portugal failed to win a group game two years ago, and they won’t get away with a similar failure this time around.
FIFA Ranking: 4th
Best Finish: Third Place (1966)
Portugal aren’t seen as being among the main contenders for the World Cup, but that’s how they’d like it. They’re flying under the radar, despite winning nine straight qualifiers to make it to Russia. They’re the reigning European champions, while they’re led by a five time Ballon d’Or winner.
Portugal breezed through qualifying, with their front two scoring 24 times between them. They defended their way to European glory two years ago, and they made the semis at the Confederations Cup in Russia 12 months ago. With more attacking talents in the side this time around, the Selecao could be a dark horse.
FIFA Ranking: 8th
Best Finish: Winners (2010)
The third favourites for the World Cup boast one of the most impressive squads in world football. They’ve brought an incredible mix of talent to the tournament, as they look to make up for two poor tournaments. A group stage exit in Brazil four years ago was followed by a tame last 16 defeat at Euro 2016. That ended the Vincent De Bosque era, and Julen Lopetegi has picked them up again. 28 points from 10 games in qualifying in impressive, as was their 6-1 thumping of Argentina earlier this year.
Spain may have had recent tournament setbacks, but they’ve won three major titles in the last 10 years. This squad combines that experience with fresh new names, taking together talent from Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have the fewest weaknesses of any side at Russia, and we see them going all the way.
See why we’ve picked Spain as our Tournament Winners
FIFA Ranking: 42nd
Best Finish: Last 16 (1986)
Morocco are appearing at their first World Cup in 20 years, and just their fifth overall. They beat the Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali to a place at the tournament. Only Mo Salah scored more goals than Khalid Boutaib in qualifying. They’re led by Juventus defender Medhi Benatia, who is their biggest name. However, they have no Premier League players, after Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal was left out after a poor campaign.
Morocco do have plenty of European talents in their squad, with only four players who ply their trade outside of a league in Europe. That paid off in their qualifying group, as they racked up 11 goals in six matches without conceding. After that record, they could make life difficult for their opponents in Russia.
FIFA Ranking: 36th
Best Finish: Group Stage (1978)
Iran have half of their squad playing outside of Europe, so they could lack top level experience at the World Cup. They do have a manager who can help bridge that gap, with former Portugal and Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz. He is preparing for his third World Cup, after they topped their qualifying group. They only scored 10 times in 10 qualifying games, but after conceding just twice they booked a spot in Russia without losing a game.
Queiroz disappointed in 2010 with Portugal, as his side failed to score in three of their four games. However, his Iran side looked solid four years ago. Thy held Nigeria to a draw, and almost repeated the trick against Argentina. The manager’s experience will be useful in big clashes with Portugal and Spain. Getting through the group is going to be tough, but they have the defensive foundations to frustrate too.
Group B Fixtures
Friday 15th June – Morocco vs Iran – 4pm, Saint Petersburg (ITV)
Friday 15th June – Portugal vs Spain – 7pm, Sochi (BBC)
Wednesday 20th June – Portugal vs Morocco – 1pm, Moscow (BBC)
Wednesday 20th June – Iran vs Spain – 7pm, Kazan (ITV)
Monday 25th June – Iran vs Portugal – 7pm, Saransk (BBC)
Monday 25th June – Spain vs Morocco – 7pm, Kaliningrad (BBC)
Who is Travelling the Furthest in Group B?
At a huge tournament like this, long travels are expected. However, European champions Portugal have come out of this draw pretty well. They have to cover 4540 kilometres across their three games, which is helped by the fact they remain at their Moscow base for the second game. Iran have three trips to make, which clock in at just 4350km, the lowest in the group.
Morocco will have travelled over 5700km by the time they line up for their final group clash. Spain’s hopes of winning the trophy could be hit by their travelling distance this summer, which is easily the biggest of the group. They have over 8990km to travel this summer, which could be a setback for the 2010 winners.
There’s one other notable thing from this group, and that’s the knockout round setup. The winner of Group B will play three of their four knockout matches in Moscow if they go all the way to the final. If Portugal could do that, they’d have next to no travelling to do for the rest of the tournament.
Who is Going to Qualify from Group B?
There’s not much room for a shock in Group B, with Spain and Portugal heavily backed to be the top two. We expect Spain to finish top of the group, and they should at least edge out Portugal. The European champions are capable of holding Spain to a draw in the opener, but that shouldn’t make a huge difference. Spain’s attacking talent should see them rack up more goals, and take the lead on goal difference at least.
However, this isn’t going to be two comfortable wins each for the big two. Both Morocco and Iran were fantastic defensively in qualifying, and they’ll set out to make life difficult for Spain and Portugal. While they may ultimately lack the attacking presence and experience at the highest level to qualify, this group isn’t entirely decided.
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