World Cup Group B Update
Group B Standings
The standings for matchday 1 in Group B are pictured above. The surprise of Iran in 1st place is shocking many onlookers in more ways than one. First, the simple fact that Iran came away with 3 points from their match against Morocco, then with Portugal and Spain having held each other to a draw provided the opportunity for Iran to enjoy sitting atop the group at this point.
Morocco vs Iran
Arguably the 2nd shock result in the 1st 2 days of the tournament so far after Russia’s 5-0 dismantling of Saudi Arabia. Iran continued the tradition of the tactical defensive approach from underdogs on the international stage. Ceding 63% possession, 433 pass attempts (86% accuracy), 13 shots, and 5 corners to Morocco demonstrates Iran’s defensive tendencies. Iran was greatly aided by a nervous and uninspired Moroccan effort, creating just a few chances in the form of 3 shots on target out of the 13 total. Many pundits were left wondering what happened to the young talented potentially mercurial attackers for the Morrocan side. The inexperience and nerves on the World’s biggest stage surely had to play a role in their performance. Ultimately the slightly scary concussion suffered by Amrabat lead to a series of substitutions proving to be the definitive shift in the match. Iran’s stout defense and speedy counter-attack allowed them to put pressure on the tiring Moroccan squad, eventually leading to a late free-kick which was turned into his own net by substitute Bouhaddouz in stoppage time. Iran showed that despite the challenges they have faced, they came with a clear gameplan to achieve their best possible outcome. Iran will now face Spain and Portugal in their quest to advance. Morocco will have it all to do in the next 2 matches even more so having not picked up a point, they face Portugal then Spain.
Portugal vs Spain
One of the top-billed group match-ups in the whole tournament, which happened to be a top 10 FIFA ranked showdown between Portugal and Spain, and it lived up to the hype. The main question for Portugal was if their tactics would be the same as the Euros and then if they would still be effective. As for Spain the main questions would be around their manager, the squad’s mentality, and finally in the line-up. Portugal from the beginning of the match showed that they were set up to defend and rely on their fast break counter to provide the attack. This method again paid dividends as Ronaldo drew an early penalty forcing Nacho (who was playing in the right-back position due to the injury to Carvajal and forcing Hierro’s first major managing decision) to leave in an extended leg inside the box. VAR confirmed the call playing the first major role in the World Cup at that point. Spain grew into the match after conceding in the 4th min, and pegged Portugal back through an exceptional individual effort by Diego Costa controlling, dribbling, and scoring through essentially the whole Portuguese defense. The rest of the 1st half was dominated by Spain, until yet again, Ronaldo on the break powered a shot through a bumbling De Gea to finish the half. The 2nd half saw Spain take the initiative, culminating in another Diego Costa goal coming from play connected to a freekick. Then just a few minutes later, Nacho, redeeming his earlier gaffe, scored a wonderful volleyed goal putting Spain up 3-2 in the 55th min. At this point, the thought surrounding the match was that Spain would hold onto the result continuing their dominate possessive play. However, the slightly more fluid attack (in comparison to the Euros) from Portugal lead to Ronaldo being fouled just outside the box and set up a classic Ronaldo freekick opportunity. Ronaldo delivered on this chance hitting a splendid shot curling and dipping into the upper 90 in the 88th min. As the final whistle sounded many had to feel that this match would be 1 of the best in the tournament. The questions surrounding both sides were answered in various ways in this match. Portugal showed that despite their defensive tendencies affording Spain 62% possession, 727 pass attempts with 93% success rate, 5 corners, and 3 shots, that the Portuguese approach was to be more open and fluid in the counter (shown in their 8 shots, 4 corners, 366 pass attempts with 87% accuracy). Ronaldo’s hattrick surely silenced his doubters and any questions surrounding his ability to carry his squad forward. Spain demonstrated that they still have the credentials to perform at a high level, capturing some of the form that made them a powerhouse in recent years in addition to a resilient mentality. Despite the overall positive takeaways for Spain, Hierro might have some selection questions after Nacho and De Gea showed some vulnerability. Spain should have no problems taking something from their next 2 matches against Iran then Morocco and advancing. Portugal should also have no problems in facing Morocco then Iran on the road to advancing. Portugal and Spain are essentially in a race to the top of the group via best goal differential.