Anxiety reigned in Spain having been seeded second in the World Cup draw, but the group was kind despite a mini-Clasico in the offing
In a 2018 World Cup draw where most of the bombastic spectacle in the Kremlin was directed towards enhancing the public image of Russia and its leader, the football side of the story left plenty of meaty information to nitpick and pull apart over the next few months.
It was a bizarrely balanced draw, with no ‘group of death’ – at least at first glance – and with many top-flight national teams exhaling a collective sigh of relief after avoiding possible pitfalls in their road towards the golden trophy.
Obviously, Spain was one of the sides with the keenest interest in avoiding strong opposition in the earlier stages of the tournament. Stuck in Pot 2 due to the absurd top seed system implemented by FIFA last year, the Spaniards had to wait a bit to know their first potent rival in the World Cup. After being sent to Group B, Portugal stands as the main threat to them moving on to the next round.
Group B 👌
Interactive Team Profiles 👇
🇵🇹Portugal – https://t.co/981oAFV1Mc
🇪🇸Spain – https://t.co/GqszldP8LS
🇲🇦Morocco – https://t.co/6IzYhOzUO0
🇮🇷IR Iran – https://t.co/3VMkdU5jTL#WorldCupDraw pic.twitter.com/JhwBJIFHds
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 1, 2017
The Portuguese are a well-known squad for Julen Lopetegui’s men. Geographical proximity aside, everyone remembers that tough 1-0 that allowed Spain to knock them out of the 2010 World Cup, which Spain would ultimately win. Most eyes will be looking closely at Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be 33 when he plays next June as Portugal’s captain. However, their ranks are filled with top-level quality players such as breakout LaLiga star Gonçalo Guedes, Barça’s right-back Nelson Semedo and so on.
The other two teams in Group B shouldn’t provide too much of a challenge for the two favourite sides. Morocco brilliantly managed to knock out the ‘elephants’ of Ivory Coast in the qualifiers. Real Madrid’s young defender Achraf and Leganes’ forward Amrabat are two of the most well-known players for Spanish fans. Another interesting case revolves around Munir El-Haddadi: the former Barça player, who is now amongst Alaves’ ranks, did indeed play way back for Spain one game, but he is waiting for bureaucracy to hand him the visa and allow him to join the Moroccan national team.
Finally, Iran. Relatively unknown for the mainstream fans, their coach Carlos Queiroz – former assistant for Sir Alex Ferguson with a brief stint as Real Madrid’s manager – is recognizable enough in the football world. It’s their second World Cup in a row for them, a feat they had never achieved. Rubin Kazan’s Sardar Azmoun is the one to watch: although he’s only 22, his progression and improvement has never stopped since his breakout a few years ago, which granted him the nickname of ‘the Iranian Messi’ by fans. Iran dominated in the qualifiers and are expected to provide a challenge for anyone who might face them.
A quick glance at the rest of the groups – where Italy’s absence sticks out like a sore thumb – reveals a pleasant early stage of the tournament for teams such as Germany or France, who have been extremely powerful throughout the qualifiers and shouldn’t break a sweat in reaching the last 16 stage. Brazil also has a kind of Group E with Costa Rica and Serbia, but Switzerland might challenge their theoretical first spot.
Argentina is a completely different animal. Group D will pit them against surprising Iceland, skillful Croatia, and physically impressive Nigeria. Given the blood, sweat and tears shed by Messi’s teammates in the past months and their squeezing into the tournament in the nick of time, it would be a pretty bad idea to underestimate the opposition.
Lastly, in what may provide the most thrilling games in this stage of the World Cup, Russia’s Group A has a lot of potentially balanced games. The hosts will take on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay in an exotic, multicultural, and very, very challenging group of fixtures. The Uruguayans are used to competing and putting all their effort on the line, while legendary manager Héctor Raúl Cuper is already slyly planning ahead to make his historical Egypt squad a very tricky one to defeat.