World Cup Group B Preview
The teams in Group B are Spain, Portugal, Iran, and Morocco.
Below the team breakdowns are listed in order of a predicted outcome.
FIFA Ranking– 10
Recent World Cup participation 1978-2014
Squad: All European Based
Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao).
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Isco (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid).
Forwards: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Rodrigo Moreno (Valencia), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid).
Warm-up Friendly Results:
vs Switzerland- Draw 1-1
vs Tunisia- Win 1-0
Spain is always a perennial favorite, and with that comes the pressure of expectation. Their performance in the last World Cup coupled with previous successes culminated in the squad’s untimely early exit. The weight of expectation should be one that they have to deal with again in this edition. In addition to the standard pressures, Real Madrid just announced that the current manager Lopetegui will be joining on after the competition, in response the national team fired Lopetegui 1 day before the matches began adding a huge distraction days before the 1st match against Portugal. The question is now about how interim manager Hierro will organize the blend of established and new players in the squad as the matchday lineups are announced. Lastly the old Real vs Barca rivalry that has previously plagued the squad is always one that the public is keen to see play out, with Real having won the Champions League for the 3rd time consecutively and Barca taking the other Spanish honors.
Despite the pressures and mediocre performances in the warm-up friendlies, Spain should win the group with relative ease. The only plausible threat to Spain comes in the form of Portugal.
FIFA Ranking– 4
Recent World Cup participation 2002-2014
Squad: All European Based minus 1 Chinese based
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 (AS 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)
Warm-up Friendly Results:
vs Tunisia Draw 0-0
vs Belgium Draw 0-0
vs Algeria Win 3-0
Portugal is the reigning Euro tournament winners, and with that will come higher expectations than their group stage exit in the last edition. There will be questions surrounding the inclusion of some younger talent not previously involved in major tournament action. In addition, there is always the whirlwind surrounding Ronaldo’s every action, this time there is much speculation about his club future having supposedly issued an ultimatum that the Real hierarchy is allegedly fed up with hearing. On top of that this may be the last real chance for Ronaldo to claim international football’s biggest prize before he is phased out of the squad due to his age. Finally, there will be many pointing to Portugal’s highly tactical approach that often leaves the squad with relying on quick breaks and random Ronaldo flashes to carry this team, yes it worked at the Euro, but will it be enough in the gauntlet that is the World Cup?
Portugal will make it out of the group easily, however, a match-up with Spain should prove to be too much for them. Their tactics and talent lead them to advance taking 2nd in the group.
FIFA Ranking– 41
Recent World Cup participation 1998
Squad: 20+ European based players
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger).
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (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 04).
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga).
Warm-up Friendly Results:
vs Ukraine Draw 0-0
vs Slovakia Win 2-1
vs Estonia Win 3-1
Morocco is in the midst of somewhat of a talent golden age, most of the squad plays regularly for some of the most well-known clubs in Europe. While the talent may be present, the inexperience of this squad on this level of a stage will be tough to handle, it is the country’s 1st involvement since 1998. Another element for the players to manage will be the unity in the squad with so many of the players born and based in Europe with the complex political background of Morocco it has caused issues for the team in the past.
Morocco should hold their unity and be talented enough to provide a fair challenge to Spain, Portugal, and should pip Iran to the 3rd spot in the group.
FIFA Ranking– 37
Recent World Cup participation 2014
Squad: 13+ European Based Players
Goalkeepers: Alireza Beyranvand (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), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos).
Midfielders: Saeid Ezatollahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos).
Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mahdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis).
Warm-up Friendly Results:
vs Uzbekistan Win 1-0
vs Turkey Loss 2-1
vs Lithuania Win 1-0
Iran is somewhat of an interesting case, many of the players are relatively unknown, and just a few have made a splash on more grand stage, Ghoddos at Ostersunds in the Europa League. Aside from the international political issues surrounding Iran itself, those issues have lead to Nike pulling their sponsorship from the team in past few days. This may seem like a trivial upon hearing, however, the ramifications are not only tangible in the form of the players losing their right to personal equipment including cleats but psychological in the proximity to World Cup preparations.
Iran simply has too much to overcome to truly make an impact, but with the last second distraction combined with the already steep climb they are faced with, Iran will finish last in the group.
Group B Wrap-up:
Spain will smash Portugal. The Portuguese tactics will prove to not be enough at this level, &/or Spain will have figured a way around them, either way, they’ll advance but won’t make the splash they were hoping.