Star player Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to win a World Cup with his native Portugal (via @dalli58/Flickr)

FIFA World Cup preview: Portugal and Spain set to cruise through Group B

Portugal aim to continue championship form from 2016 Euros

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins on Thursday, June 14. Leading up to the tourney, we’ll offer our previews and predictions for each of the eight groups. Today, a look at Group B:

Portugal

FIFA Rank (as of June 8, 2018): 4

Best player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Arguably the world’s best footballer, Ronaldo has over a goal per game in his time at Real Madrid with 311 goals in 292 matches. He is Portugal’s most-capped player and top goal-scorer. He has the ability to change a game by himself.

One to watch: Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)

The 21-year-old winger was forced on loan to Valencia from PSG after the arrival of stars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. He recorded five goals and nine assists for the club in the La Liga this season. Whether the youngster starts for Portugal or not is still up in the air.

Outlook:

Portugal comes into the World Cup as the reigning European champions. The goal for this team is to win and anything short of that will be a failure, especially for a 33-year-old Ronaldo, who has accomplished almost everything except capture a World Cup.

Spain

FIFA rank: 10

Best player: David de Gea (Manchester United)

De Gea was remarkable this season for United after capturing 18 clean sheets in the Premier League. (Insert video)

One to watch: Besides every other player on their team, Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)

Thiago, a 27-year-old midfielder, will start every game for Spain and has turned into a superstar at Bayern. He’s a phenomenal passer of the ball and quick with his feet.

Outlook:

Spain has the best goalkeeper in the world, along with a stellar defence and dominant midfield. The only issue they can run into is their lack of finish. Their forward group of Iago Aspas, Diego Costa and Rodrigo are good enough, but will they perform?

Morocco

FIFA rank: 41

Best player: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus)

Captain and a class act, Benatia had a successful season with Juventus this year. Injuries have troubled him in the past but when he is healthy he is a force in the back end.

One to watch: Ayoub El Kaabi (RS Berkane)

The 24-year-old striker is an exciting young talent who has 11 goals in nine games for the Moroccan international side.

Outlook:

Morocco seems to be down and out being in a group with Portugal and Spain. Unless a miracle happens, it doesn’t seem to be their year.

Iran

FIFA rank: 37

Best player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)

A strong striker, the 23-year-old has proven himself to be a prolific goal-scorer for his country, scoring 23 times in 32 appearances.

One to watch: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar)

Jahanbakhsh had himself a brilliant season in the Eredivisie this season, as he became the first Asian player to become a top scorer in a major European League with his 21 league goals.

Outlook:

Iran is playing in their fifth World Cup and for the first time has qualified back-to-back. Iran went winless at the 2014 World Cup and their only hope in improving their record will be against Morocco.

READ MORE: FIFA World Cup preview: Uruguay expected to stomp through Group A

Group winner: Portugal.

Portugal will be riding their 2016 Euro championship form into the World Cup and with a solid performance from Ronaldo. They should be the favourites out of the Iberian Peninsula.

Group runner-up: Spain.

Spain is a strong team that passes the ball well and could easily oust Portugal for the top of Group B. They need to prove that they can put the ball in the back of the net.


@kieranroconnor
kieran.oconnor@bpdigital.ca

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