World Cup Group B Preview: Key stats, info and odds
Spain and Portugal head the quartet
The World Cup countdown is on and so is our guide to the eight groups and 32 teams set to compete in Russia.
The Coral News Team got the ball rolling with Group A yesterday. Today’s focus is on Group B, starting with Euro 2016 winners Portugal.
Manager: Fernando Santos led Portugal to Euro 2016 success in France and will take charge once again in Russia. He also guided Greece to the knockout stage for the first time in 2014.
Best WC result: Portugal’s best World Cup performance came on debut in 1966. Eusebio top-scored as they finished third in England.
How they play: Structure will be key for Santos as he looks to balance an ageing and weak defence with an exciting and fluid attack. Expect him to set up in a 4-4-2 formation, which although tight at the back, allows Cristiano Ronaldo to flourish going forward.
One to watch: It’s difficult to ignore the quality of Ronaldo. But Andre Silva could also play a pivotal role. The 22-year-old averages better than a goal every other game for his country and is 50/1 to be top scorer.
Things to consider: What if Ronaldo doesn’t fire? Portugal are a decent all-round outfit, but without doubt the onus remains on the Real Madrid man to produce some magic. He got them out of a hole in France two years ago, can he be relied upon to do it again this time around?
Portugal were the dark horses without any real expectation at Euro 2016. Now they’re expected to follow up on that success with another positive showing.
Manager: Ex-Porto coach Julen Lopetegui was appointed to the role in 2016. The 51-year-old has managed a number of the Spanish youth sides and succeeds Vicente del Bosque in the role. He is unbeaten thus far.
Best WC result: Spain have won the World Cup once, in 2010. Andres Iniesta scored an extra-time goal to secure a 1-0 victory against the Netherlands. It is the only time they have advanced beyond the quarter-final stage in 15 WC appearances.
How they play: Possession is still the name of the game for Spain. Lopetegui favours a fluid style and will likely set up in a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 formation.
One to watch: Iniesta and David Silva remain important at the heart of this team. But it’s Real Madrid star Isco who is primed to take over from the pair as the creative focal point. A hat-trick against Argentina in March perfectly demonstrates his attacking capabilities.
Things to consider: After success in 2010 and catastrophic failure in 2014, Spain are a re-emerging force in Russia. A level of depth that has enabled them to leave out Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas, amongst others, shows the quality running through the squad.
However, question marks remain over where the goals are coming from. Diego Costa doesn’t really fit into Spain’s passing style, while Iago Aspas has played just nine times for the national side. It remains to be seen whether Lopetegui sides with one over the other, or opts to start without a conventional forward once again.
Manager: Despite being only 49-years-old, Herve Renard is as experienced as they come. The Frenchman took over as Morocco boss in 2016 having previously managed Zambia, Angola, and Ivory Coast.
Best WC result: This will be Morocco’s fifth appearance at a World Cup and their first participation since 1998. Their best result came in 1986 when they reached the last-16 before going out 1-0 to West Germany.
How they play: The Atlas Lions are tactically sound and will hope to frustrate their opponents. Their ability to switch between a solid 4-4-2 and tenacious 4-3-3 between phases of play makes them a dangerous proposition.
One to watch: Youngster Hakim Ziyech has drawn comparisons with Philippe Coutinho in his time with Ajax. The playmaker has had a hand in 24 goals in the Eredivisie this season, scoring nine and assisting 15. He’ll be key to Morocco’s chances.
Things to consider: Morocco are the definition of a side attempting to achieve more than the sum of its parts. There’s quality sprinkled throughout the team, but it will need to be accompanied by a safety first approach against the group’s big hitters.
Their first group game against Iran could go a long way to deciding their fate. If they can win that, then they could be in business. Juventus star Medhi Benatia will lead the Atlas Lions into battle.
Manager: Carlos Queiroz is in his seventh year as Iran boss after spells at South Africa, Real Madrid and Portugal. He was also famously Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United.
Best WC result: Iran have yet to make it past round one in four appearances at the World Cup. They finished third in their group in 1998 after a famous 2-1 victory over the United States.
How they play: Team Melli are traditionally a more solid side dependent on counterattacking football. More recently, though, they’ve show a more attacking style with a 4-1-4-1 formation. Expect them to switch between the two in Russia.
One to watch: Mehdi Taremi stands out above the rest. The 25-year-old plays for Al-Gharafa in Qatar and has the ability to not only score goals, but also set up chances for his teammates.
Things to consider: Iran usually finish bottom of their group, but they don’t make it easy for sides. Argentina needed a 91st minute Lionel Messi goal to get out of jail against them in Brazil.
Queiroz is a wily old coach who has experience on this stage. He knows what it takes to organise a side to contain and frustrate better opponents. That said, they lack a standout player who can give them an edge, and as such will likely bow out at the group stage.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing