Group B looks certain to be a straightforward battle to decide who wins the group as football giants Spain and Portugal battle it out in a group containing Iran and Morocco. The Spanish remain unbeaten since their Euro 2016 defeat against Italy and will be looking to get some World Cup joy back after their abysmal 2014 finals display in Brazil, one that saw them thrashed by their 2010 final opponents Netherlands.
Spain’s journey was relatively easy had Italy as their main rivals, but we all know that things can go wrong. The Spanish coach has not been afraid to wield the axe in the chase for World Cup glory. One of the biggest names is Alvaro Morata, whose Chelsea form has seen his place in the Chelsea team disappear. In fact it’s not a good time for a few of Chelsea’s Spanish contingent. Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Marcos Alonso all miss the journey to Russia, but Azpiliceuta does make the plane. It’s not just the Chelsea players missing the cut as Hector Belerin of Arsenal, Vitolo of Atletico and Javi Martinez all find themselves with more time over the summer period.
Andres Iniesta makes the squad in what will no doubt be his last World Cup. The Barca legend who scored the winner in 2010 said goodbye to the La Liga champions and Russia 2018 be his international farewell with a World Cup win. Despite his seven goals in 23 games, former Chelsea striker appears to have done enough to take his place. He is not the only former Premier League player featuring in the Spanish squad. Iago Aspas appears to have reignited his career after his disappointing time at Anfield. Since being back in Spain he found his shooting boots. A loan spot at Sevilla bought him 10 goals in 26 games, but then signing with his old club Celta, he has bagged 55 goals in 101 games. Will their strike force of Aspas, Rodrigo and Costa, get them to the final? We shall have to wait and see.
Portugal, neighbours and rivals of Spain, go into the tournament as European Champions and will hope to join Spain and France as nations to win both tournaments. Portugal looked like finishing second in their group as the Swiss were in control having remained undefeated until the last group game in Lisbon. Whilst the Swiss were winning, they were not bagging enough goals. Portugal were winning and bagging the goals. Cristiano Ronaldo bagging 15 of the 32 goals whilst Switzerland were only managing 23 between them. The World Cup is the only trophy that Ronaldo has yet to win, so can he in what could be his last World Cup and what would be the price of Portugal finally adding the trophy to their association cabinet.
Spain and Portugal meet in the second group game and face each other for only the second time in finals competition where Spain have the edge. Both games coming in the knock out stages. Will Portugal turn things around and beat their neighbours or will Spain make it 3-0 in World Cup final encounters.
Morocco feature in the group, they are at their fifth finals, the first since France 98 were they went out in the group stage that featured Scotland. They will do well to repeat their feat at Mexico 86 when they reached the last 16 following their best third place record. Their path to the World Cup was fairly easy with three wins and three draws. They were the only African nation not to concede a goal but they only managed 11 goals in their six games, of which 6 were netted in one game. Khalid Boutaib was the top scorer with three goals. All those came in one game in a home game against Gabon. In their pre World Cup friendlies the North African nation have managed wins against Serbia and a draw against Ukraine, but they are far from the likes of Portugal and Spain. I think they may well struggle.
Iran complete this look at Group B. The Middle Eastern nation qualify for their fifth World Cup Finals and their first back to back finals following their appearance in Brazil. Iran’s journey to the finals saw an initial group stage which they breezed through unbeaten and six points ahead of second place Oman. They were the best Asian team going into round three and another group round. The group made of six nations saw another unbeaten round and top spot finish, beating South Korea in the process. The nation currently has a handful defeats in the last three years although that reflects mostly in Asian Federation matches. They did though recently hold World Cup hosts Russia to a 1-1 draw.
Spain finish top on goal difference ahead of Portugal. Iran finish third and Morocco fourth.