World Cup 2018 Previews – Group B Battle of The Iberians

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.

Group Prediction

Spain finish top on goal difference ahead of Portugal. Iran finish third and Morocco fourth.

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Real Madrid – The Road to Kiev

Real Madrid  as Champions League winners, had automatically qualified for the group stage of the competition. Their group on paper looked like it could be a battle rather than a stroll as they were joined by Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Apoel Nicosia. Whilst the Cypriot side would be the support act, Spurs and Dortmund were expected to make it hard work for the Spanish club. Tottenham took four points from the defending champions including a 3-1 win at Wembley. Dortmund though failed to cause any issues apart from a all but two late attempted comeback in a 3-2 defeat.

Madrid could always count on Ronaldo to bag the goals and he did by chipping in 9 of the teams 17 group stage goals, but the Portuguese star was not finished by all means. In the second round, Madrid were drawn against French side PSG in what looked to be a classic encounter. The first leg in Spain saw Ronaldo hand the hosts a 1-0 lead just before half time and a second to restore the lead late in the second half. The Spanish looked to have secured the tie when Marcelo made it 3-1. A two goal margin in this seasons competition would seem unsafe in many game, but the second leg remained goalless until early second half when Ronaldo opened the scoring. PSG pulled one back, but it was never going to be enough and ten minutes from time Casemiro secured a winner on the night and a 5-2 aggregate win.

The Quarter final draw had paired the Italian giants Juventus against Real and a tie that was going to be full of cards over the two legs. The first leg was in Turin and the Italians were relatively stingy in defence at home. They had conceded only one at home in the group stage and two at home to Spurs in the last 16. That would change as the Italians were on the receiving end of a 3-0 pasting from the Spaniards. It didn’t help that they lost Dybala for the second leg with his two yellow card offences.

The second leg, well that turned into a thrilling affair. Juventus knew they had to go at Madrid to have any chance of saving the tie and that was exactly what happened. Mandzukic struck early as he headed home. Mandzukic  grabbed a second in the 37th minute and the game was well and truly on. Real’s grip on the game was becoming a little loose and then on the hour mark, Navas’ fumbled to allow Matuidi to strike home. The Italian’s had appeared to have pulled it off, the game was heading to extra time but could Real hold on? Could Juve snatch a killer fourth goal? Well in the 90th minute Benatia was judged to have fouled Vazquez, referee Michael Oliver awarded the penalty and chaos erupted, Juve players surrounded the English referee as a very angry Buffon remonstrated and pointed at Oliver enough for the Italian to be shown the red card. A twist in the tale it would seem. Juve took off Higuain and brought on Szczesny. Ronaldo stepped up, could he immerse himself even further in football glory or could the former Arsenal keeper become a hero. It would be the former as the Portuguese star drilled the ball home.

The Semi finals brought up German champions Bayern Munich as the opponents for Real. The Germans were always going to be a difficult opponent at home and when they took the lead, we thought the Spaniards may have met their match. Unfortunately the Germans couldn’t take their chances managing five shots on target out of seventeen. It would prove costly as Marcelo netted an away goal just before half time. Ronaldo had also had a goal disallowed for handball. A mistake from Rafinha lead to a break away goal. Having four key players going into the game, losing Robben after 8 minutes and Boateng in the 34th, things couldn’t get any worse for the Germans.

The Germans knew what they had to do and Kimmich struck first blood after 2 minutes, the lead though lasted until the 11th minute when Benzema headed home. It was all even on the night but advantage Madrid 3-2 on aggregate. On any other day and with those missing players available, Real Madrid may well have been fighting for their Champions League survival. Luck was favouring the hosts as a goalkeeping blunder by Sven Ulreich gave the hosts the advantage once more. It was 2-1 Madrid and 4-2 on aggregate. As the game moved on Munich searched for a leveller and they got one through James Rodriguez. One of Madrid’s on loan players levelled on the night. Whoever got the next goal would no doubt secure the tie. Madrid scoring would increase the gap, probably too far, whilst a single goal from the visitors would level the tie on aggregate and send Bayern through on away goals.  The game though finished level and 4-3 on aggregate. Real were heading to another final and yet another defence of their title.

 

Neymar – The fee to end all fees?

It would appear that PSG have not just broken but shattered the current transfer record held following Pogba joining Manchester United from Juventus. That fee was £89 m, the new record is £200 million. Of course there was a brief snag when La Liga officials refused to accept the buy out fee. The Spanish association don’t believe that the French club can legitimately purchase the Brazilian outright. They believe that the club have breached the Financial Fair Play rules and will report the Qatari owned French club to UEFA.

The FFP rules that came into being in the 2011-12 season state that European football clubs cannot outspend what they earn by more than 30 million euros. Paris Saint Germain have been penalised for previously breaching the Financial Fair Play rules. Back in 2014 a £167 million commercial deal with Qatar’s Tourism Authority was seen to be an unfair value. The punishment was a £20 million fine, spending capped to £49 million and a reduced Champions League squad.

Whilst the fee is one thing, the remaining fees are quite staggering and eye watering. Before tax the Brazilian will earn £782,000 A WEEK (865,000 euros) which equates to £40.7 million A YEAR (45 million euros). The cost over 5 years will total a staggering £400 million.

So what now for transfer fees? It seems  a long time ago since the first £1 million player. That player was Giuseppe Savoldi joined Napoli from Bologna. It was another Italian who broke the record just the following year with Paolo Rossi moving from Juventus to Vicenza. The English record Trevor Francis was Britain’s record transfer fee at £1.2 million. Transfer fees have shot up and with tv money involved and billionaire owners, we have now come to this position. We have seen £30 plus million for goalkeepers, £50 million for defenders (some not being worth it) the Paul Pogba deal and now Neymar. Naturally there has been an increase of modest proportions, but PSG have now probably seemingly nailed the door shut on any further transfer record broken.

I mean £200 million wont be beaten? Surely….