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Group B Preview & Tips: Spain and Portugal likely to be too strong for Morocco and Iran
Spain are Portugal are favoured to emerge from Group B but Morocco and Iran could prove difficult opponents
2018 World Cup Group B Preview & Tips
Group B consists of Spain, Portugal, Iran and Morocco. With two European powerhouses up against a pair of strugglers, it would take a very brave punter to back Morocco or Iran getting out of the group but anything is possible in football.
Spain were simply too good between 2008 and 2012 winning two European Championships and a World Cup. Vicente del Bosque hung around a bit too long as La Roja disappointed in 2014 and 2016 but they could be back under former U-19 and U-21 boss Julen Lopetegui. Many of that all-conquering side are still there and just need a little tweak here and there to get back to their best.
Led by the likes of David De Gea, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Isco and Diego Costa, there is every chance Spain can challenge for the World Cup. Spain’s effective high press, technical ability and rapid ball movement was too much for a Messi-less Argentina to handle in a recent 6-1 thrashing.
Spain meet their Iberian neighbours Portugal in the opening game and will be confident of getting off to a positive start. A victory against Ronaldo and co. will almost certainly wrap up top spot in Group B with Iran and Morocco to follow. There is little value in Spain at 1.57 to win Group B but it is useful in accumulators.
Morocco qualified for their fifth World Cup after finishing the last qualifying group stage without a goal conceded. French manager Hervé Renard is an African football specialist having previously been in charge of Ivory Coast, Zambia and Angola. The Atlas Lions haven’t lost since June 2017 and defeated Nigeria 4-0 in the African Nations Final in February.
Renard has some top quality players at his disposal such as Medhi Benatia, Hakim Ziyech, Amine Harit, Sofiane Boufal, Younès Belhanda, Zakaria Labyad, Sofyan Amrabat and Achraf Hakimi. With a favourable match up against Iran in their first game, there is a great opportunity to get off to a positive start before the tougher tests in Portugal and Spain.
Renard’s men ended up beat Serbia 2-1 in a recent friendly which shouldn’t go unnoticed with the Serbians also on the plane to Russia. With defensive stability and an array of attacking flair, Morocco can definitely spring a surprise in Group B and shouldn’t be written off until we see how they perform against Iran.
Iran qualified for their fifth World Cup after finishing top of their qualifying group which included Korea Republic, going undefeated and conceding just twice. Managed by experienced Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz since 2011, Team Melli should be better for the experience competing in Brazil four years ago where they were eliminated in the group stage despite battling hard against Nigeria and Argentina.
Based on solidity, hard work and defensive organisation, Iran have a group of attackers that have the potential to damage defences. 23-year-old Sardar Azmoun was Iran’s top scorer in qualifiers and has already scored 22 international goals while Alireza Jahanbakhsh is flourishing at AZ Alkmaar with 14 goals and 10 assists so far this season.
Iran’s strategy of being difficult to break down and relying on counter attacks could suit them against Spain and Portugal, but much will depend on how they perform in their opening match against Morocco. Anything can happen but it would be a huge upset if Iran managed to navigate their way out of Group B into the knockout phase.
The 2016 European Champions are going through a phase of regeneration, particularly in central defence where 35-year-old Pepe and 36-year-old Bruno Alves could be first choice. The World Cup might come too soon for 20-year-old Rúben Dias with the other options José Fonte, Rolando and Luís Neto hardly inspiring choices.
Manager Fernando Santos always has a plan however, and does have one of the most devastating weapons at his disposal in Cristiano Ronaldo. The 33-year-old is continually written off but comes back strong each time with phenomenal performances, goals and Ballon d'Or awards. Santos faces selection dilemmas with many of his stars from 2016 unfit and out of form.
The likes of Rúben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins, Bruma, Rony Lopes and Gonçalo Guedes could emerge from Russia as mainstays for Portugal over the next decade, but the World Cup could end up being a transition phase for the Seleção. Priced at 1.33 to qualify and 3.25 to win Group B, there is little value unless you think Portugal can win their opening game.
Spain should have too much for Portugal in the opening game which would put La Roja in pole position to win Group B. There is little value for Portugal to qualify at 1.33 so instead we turn to who is likely to finish bottom. Iran are the weakest team in Group B, I don’t expect them to beat Morocco in their opening game and they have little chance against Spain and Portugal.
Win Group B: Spain at 1.57
Finish Bottom of Group B: Iran at 1.62