After a frantic final matchday, Spain claims the group on goals scored, leaving Portugal in 2nd but also advancing. Iran is left to pack their bags and head home alongside Morocco who were eliminated at the end of matchday 2. This group could easily have finished in a different order and with Spain or Portugal missing out, however, the established powers were able to hold on despite last minute drama.
Spain vs Morocco
This match was one that Spain should have and did dominate in the typical possessive, passing, flowing style you would expect from them. The real surprise was the expansive open attacking style that Morocco employed to match-up against Spain. They were rewarded after a mistake between Iniesta and Ramos saw a streaking Boutaïb beat a stranded De Gea in the 14th min. Iniesta quickly made up for his mistake dishing a cut back ball to Isco to slot home from close range leveling the match 1-1 in the 19th min. Soon after, an oversight by Pique again saw a streaking Boutaïb away on goal, this time De Gea stood tall to make his 1st save of the tournament. The sides then traded chances, most notably with Amrabat striking the crossbar, and an Isco header cleared off the line. Not until late in the match did a side score again. In the 80th min En-Nesyri climbing over Ramos, headed home to give Morocco the 2-1 advantage. Seemingly with the match put away, Morocco defended fiercely until stoppage time. Off a corner, late sub, Aspas flicked the ball past the Moroccan keeper in the 91st min. Initially ruled offside, VAR was necessary to correct the on-field call and Spain stole a point in a 2-2 draw. Morocco will leave on a positive note having displayed their true potential in their last match. Spain benefitted from the other match’s result to take the top spot and square off with hosts Russia as the runner-up of group A. Spain vs Russia will take place Sunday, July 1st at 10ET/9CT from Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Iran vs Portugal
Portugal came into this match as heavy favorites against the scrappy Cinderella Iran squad. This match had a bit of everything, a spectacular goal, controversy, and VAR. Iran set up to give Portugal a taste of their own medicine, sitting deep intending to hit on the counter. Therefore Portugal dominated the possession stats but couldn’t seem to crack the stout defense of the Iranians. The sides traded a handful of chances, not of which were truly dangerous for much of the 1st half. Many would have thought Iran had accomplished their goal for the 1st half at 0-0 heading into the 45th min, but Quaresma curled an outside of the foot shot into the far top corner to put Portugal up 1-0 to end the half. Portugal came out at the whistle blazing through the Iran midfield. In the 49th min the pressure resulted in Ronaldo going down at the edge of the box, initially to no avail, but VAR intervened yet again to give Ronaldo a PK chance. You would assume that Ronaldo was going to put this away, but his shot was stopped by Beiranvand low to his left. Much of the second half after that was a cagey affair with no real clear chances. A controversial moment struck in the 83rd min when after another VAR review, Ronaldo was given a yellow card instead of a red after apparently elbowing an Iranian player. This could have drastically swung the fate of the match, but the last dramatic moments were yet to come. In the 89th min, a header from an Iranian player went off Cedric’s arm, VAR again awarding a PK. Ansarifard made no mistake slotting the PK passed Rui Patricio leveling the match at 1-1 in the 93rd min. Iran went on to miss a great chance in the 95th min before the final whistle saw Portugal hang on to advance. Iran having won many hearts head home, while group B runner-up Portugal will face group A winners Uruguay at 2ET/1CT Saturday, June 30th from Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.