May is here. That means the 2018 World Cup is just around the corner. Group stage battle starts on June 14 when the host team Russia battles Saudi Arabia. From 6/15 on, the top soccer nations in the world hit the pitch for the most coveted prize some say in all of sports.
This blog previews arguably the most anticipated group in the 2018 World Cup, Group B. Check out my preview of each team before a few predictions.
2018 World Cup Group B Preview
No doubt, Group B is loaded. Yes, Iran and Morocco don’t have much of a shot. Portugal and Spain are two of the favorites to win the World Cup. Spain, in particular, looks like a team that could hoist the championship trophy this year.
The Spanish looked great when qualifying for Russia. Spain will attempt to get the bad taste of recent failures on the international stage out of their collective mouths. Meanwhile, Portugal will look to build upon its surprising 2016 European Championship win. Portugal is deeper than just Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both Morocco and Iran have some positives to lean on. Iran, in particular, has a young player that could be one of 2018 World Cup’s breakout stars. Keep reading for more in depth profiles of each team in Group B.
The Portuguese upset France at UEFA Euro 2016. Portugal appears to have what it takes to win the 2018 World Cup. In addition to the great Christiano Ronaldo, the team sports terrific players in Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva. Pepe, although 35-years-old, is still one of the premier players in soccer.
Manager Fernando Santos says that Portugal is probably in the second group of teams that could win the World Cup. Per Santos, the favorites are Germany, France, Spain and Brazil. He believes the Portuguese can go far.
Spain projects to beat Portugal for a Group B victory. The Spanish are loaded again with David De Gea, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, and Alvaro Morata.
After the failure at UEFA Euro 2016, Spain decided to go with Julen Lopetegui as their manager. Lopetegui led the under-21 team to a championship in 2013. One of his top players in 2013 was Francisco Roman Alarcon Suarez. Suarez, referred to as Isco, is now 26-years-old and in the prime of his soccer career.
Morocco’s odds to win the 2018 World Cup are much higher than many might have anticipated. The Moroccans do have some high-profile players on their squad such as Mehdi Benatia who plays for Juventus and Ajax player Hakim Ziyech. Manager Herve Renard is also somewhat different than other World Cup managers.
Renard understands that it takes a team effort to compete in a World Cup. He leans heavily on assistant Patrice Beaumelle. Renard and Beaumelle helped Morocco qualify for Russia without conceding a goal. The Moroccans are the only African team to do so.
Iran has been built, and plays, in the mold of its manager, Carlos Quieroz. At times controversial, Quieroz is popular in Iran because he’s gotten the squad to compete at a high-level on the international stage. That’s not easy to do.
This year, Quieroz has a star player in the making in 22-year-old Sardr Azmoun. Azmoun has played mostly in Russia for Rubin Kazan and Rostov. Arsenal and Juventus have shown interest, though. That tells us how talented Azmoun is. But, Azmoun isn’t alone. Ashkan Dejagha came up through Germany’s youth system while Ehsan Hafsaji has won 88 caps for Iran since debuting in 2008.
Can Portugal Upset Spain in Group B?
Not only is this the biggest question regarding Group B, this might be the biggest question regarding the World Cup. Portugal, amazingly, upset France to win Euro 2016. I write amazingly because the Portuguese were without Ronaldo that day.
In fact, Ronaldo wasn’t as effective at Euro 2016 as so many expected him to be. Instead of freaking out about it, Fernando Santos decided to play an even more defensive system until facing France in the Euro 2016 final. Portugal’s aggression caught the French off-guard. France never recovered after Portugal scored the lone goal in the final.
The thing is, Portugal is better now than they were in 2016. Ronaldo is 32-years-old. He most definitely can still score goals with the best of them. But, for Portugal to be successful, he won’t have to. Pepe, at 35-years-old, should provide enough lift for Ronaldo to be effective. The real key for Portugal’s success could be Bernardo Silva.
The 23-year-old Silva made the leap this season from Monaco to Manchester City. Manchester City won the Premier League. A lot of that had to do with Silva who scored 5 goals in 32 appearances for Man U. If Silva is able to step it up during World Cup 2018, Portugal might upset Spain and win Group B.
Is Spain a Real Contender to Win the 2018 World Cup?
There is no easy answer to this question. First, the negatives. Spain was supposed to compete for the championship at the 2014 World Cup. The Spanish didn’t even make it out of the Group Stage. Then, Spain was supposed to compete in France for the UEFA Euro 2016 title. Spain advanced to the knockout stage. But, Italy beat them 2 to 0 in the Round of 16.
Are we to believe that Spain, somehow, has gotten so much better in the span of 2-years that they can win the greatest sports tournament on the planet? Yes. Yes, we are.
I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, but that’s not the reason I believe Spain is a real contender to win the 2018 World Cup. The reason I think Spain has what it takes, why the Spanish might even be an overlay at +700, is because of how they qualified for Russia.
Spain went 9-0-1 to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. They beat Italy 3 to 0, Albania 3 to 0, Macedonia 4 to 0, and Liechtenstein 8 to 0. Only Israel scored a goal versus Spain’s impenetrable defense. La Roja beat the Israelis 4 to 1.
How did Spain return to prominence? The Marquis of del Bosque, great Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque, retired in 2016 following the disaster at the Euro Championship. del Bosque had managed La Roja since 2008. In stepped Julen Lopetegui, who managed Spain’s under-21 team from 2012 through 2014.
In 2013, Lopetegui managed a young Spanish player named Isco. Isco is, arguably, the reason Real Madrid is the best team in the world. Isco has 155 appearances for Real Madrid since 2013. He’s scored 31 goals. He’s an attacking midfielder who understands how Spain plays defense.
Lopetegui won’t change Spain’s 4-5-1 formation. It’s worked well in the past. It should work even better this year because Spain’s got Isco setting everyone up. David Silva, Sergio Romo, David De Gea, Andres Iniesta, Morata, Busquets, and Alba all return. Adding Isco, and a few tweaks from Lopetegui, means that Spain is the team to beat at the 2018 World Cup.
Which of the Middle Eastern Teams, Morocco or Iran, Can Knock out Portugal or Spain?
I don’t believe Morocco or Iran knocks out Spain. The Spanish are dead set on making amends for their recent international tournament performances. La Roja won’t fail.
I do believe that both Morocco and Iran can compete with Portugal. If the Portuguese make a single mistake, Iran, in particular, will make them pay. Sardar Azmoun is the real deal. I predict that after the 2018 World Cup both Arsenal and Juventus will want a crack at signing the young Iranian player. Also, there will be few players as motivated as Ashkahn Dejagha. He’s had only a single appearance with Nottingham Forest this year in 2018. Dejagha wants to sign on full-time with a club either in La Liga, the Bundesliga, or the Premier League.
Iran looks solid. Morocco isn’t without a shot to knock out Portugal, either. Morocco didn’t yield a single goal during qualifying. More than a few soccer analysts believe Morocco has the best defense in the world. If Morocco can frustrate Portugal just enough, they could take advantage.
We shall see!