World Cup 2018: your guide to Group B
Spain and Portugal likely to progress at the expense of unlucky Morocco and Iran
Cristiano Ronaldo will lead Portugal in Russia. Photograph: Harold Cunningham/Getty
Iberian rivals Spain and Portugal - who have won the last three European Championships between them - have been brought together in Group B, and are set to slug it out for pole position. These two heavyweights will almost certainly dominate the group, with Morocco and Iran the victims of a cruel draw. The group’s two minnows are no pushovers - both qualified with ease - but unless something improbable happens their campaigns seem destined to be ended prematurely.
Road to Russia
Spain and Portugal had relatively untroubled qualifying campaigns with Portugal’s sole defeat coming in their first game against Switzerland, in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, while Spain won nine of their 10 fixtures - only dropping points in a 1-1 draw away to Italy. Iran were the second team after Brazil to confirm their place in Russia, and Morocco topped their qualification group without conceding a goal.
World Cup pedigree
Spain are the only World cup winners in the group - their 2010 success the crowning glory of one of the greatest ever international sides. Portugal reached the semi-finals in 1966 and 2006 - both on European soil - while Iran have yet to make the knockout stages in four appearances. In 1986 Morocco became the first African side to reach the knockout stages.
Following in the footsteps of Vincent Del Bosque was always going to be difficult but Spain look like serious challengers again under Julen Lopetegui. Fernando Santos has fostered a brilliant team spirit and spine with the Portuguese - as shown during their Euro 2016 victory. Carlos Queiroz took charge of Iran in 2011 and will be aiming to ambush his native Portugal, while Morocco’s Herve Renard is a tournament specialist - he won the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast in 2015.
Ronaldo will, as ever, enjoy being the centre of attention and remains Portugal’s talisman. The Spanish orchestra, meanwhile, is set to lose its conductor - Andres Iniesta departs the international stage after the World Cup. Roman Saiss will be vital for Morocco in midfield, and Iran’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh was this season’s top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie, the AZ Alkmaar winger netting 21 goals.
Had the draw been kinder, both Morocco and Iran would have had legitimate hopes of reaching the last 16. However, expect Spain and Portugal to qualify, with their clash next Friday deciding who tops the group.