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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 & Betting 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 bounced back under former U-19 and U-21 boss Julen Lopetegui.
Two days before La Roja's World Cup opener Lopetegui was sensationally sacked after negotiating a contract with Real Madrid behind the back of the Spanish Football Federation. Fernando Hierro takes over and won't have much time to prepare. The big question is how Lopetegui's dismissal will affect the squad.
Many of the all-conquering side are still there however 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.
Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao).
Defenders: Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City).
Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid).
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, 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 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.
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger).
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Istanbul Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille).
Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke).
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga).
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.
Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo).
Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal).
Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis).
Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest).
The 2016 European Champions are going through a phase of regeneration, particularly in central defence where 35-year-old Pepe and 34-year-old Jose Fonte could be first choice. Benfica's 20-year-old defender Rúben Dias has been selected alongside 36-year-old Bruno Alves.
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 Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins 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. Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva are important players for Portugal and Santos particularly likes the workrate of the unheralded Adrien Silva.
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 against Spain. The World Cup has the potential to be a disaster for the Portuguese, especially if they lose against Spain, and Morocco get all three points against Iran in their opening game.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon).
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica).
Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting).
Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).
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.
Group B Winner: Spain @ 1.56
Group B Finish Bottom: Iran @ 1.80