FIFA rank: 4
Make no mistakes, just because Portugal failed to advance past group stages in Brazil four years ago does not mean they are to be trifled with. This is the team that’s coming off a win at the Euros two summers ago, and their attacking front is as good as any, and they still have Pepe and Moutinho anchoring the back two-thirds of the field. They have the makings of a serious contender.
Player to watch: Who do you think? Of course it’s Ronaldo. Christiano suffered a down year, by his own standards, but caught fire late, scoring in 3 of 4 knockout rounds of the Champions League. He has never scored more than one goal in any of his 3 World Cups. If Portugal is to make some noise, that needs to change.
FIFA rank: 10
Despite their pot 2 status, España are being talked about as a top-3 team at this tournament. David De Gea, the best keeper in the world at the moment, will be between the posts for a team that severely disappointed in 2014, winning just one game, which was after they had been eliminated. The midfield is simply unfair, boasting the talents of players like Sergio Busquets, Isco, and Andre Iniesta for his swan song.
Player to watch: Diego Costa will be the deciding factor that determines Spain’s fate. the Weakness of this team is the much-maligned offensive attack, and the lack of a productive or seasoned goal-scorer could be their downfall. Without Morata on the team, Costa’s production will likely be the deciding factor of Spain’s success.
FIFA rank: 37
This is probably Iran’s best team at a world cup ever. They won 12 games in qualifying, 2 more than any other such campaign, and they’ve lost just two games in the last calendar year. That being said, they’re still relatively an unknown quantity, and no one really knows their deal, with just 10 of their 23 players playing in european leagues. Should they move on to the knockout stage, it would be a miracle.
Player to watch: Sardar Azmoun will be the key up front for the Iranians. He leads the current team with 23 goals in his 33 caps, and he’ll need to increase that scoring rate if they want to have any chance to compete.
FIFA rank: 41
Morocco are just happy to be here. They’ve played in just one knockout stage game ever, and that was in the 1980s. Their one hope will be their decent back line, although that has yet to be truly tested by teams with the strength of those in their group. Once again, Morocco advancing out of group stages would be a miracle.
Player to watch: Hakim Ziyech has played very well over the past year in Italy for Ajax. He may be a midfielder, but he’s scored more international goals than all but one of Morocco’s forwards. He’ll need to do it all for Morocco to keep their contests close.
Morocco vs Iran: Friday, June 15th, 11am
These teams will be amped up. They get to start off their World Cup campaigns with a possible win and they know it. Moreover, the rest of these teams’ games won’t be very close, so a win here would give pride. Score: Morocco 2-0 Iran
Spain vs Portugal: Friday, June 15th, 2pm
This is the big one. In one of the most anticipated matchups of the first weekend, the two assumed victors of the group, and two tournament favorites go head to head to determine the eventual group winner, barring anything unforeseen. Portugal, however, is simply a much more well-rounded team. Score: Portugal 2-1 Spain.
Portugal vs Morocco: Wednesday, June 2oth, 8am
Portugal likely won’t need a diving header at the buzzer to save a result this time (*cries*). Score: Portugal 4-0 Morocco.
Spain vs Iran: Wednesday,June 2oth, 2pm
Spain will be desperate, facing elimination with a loss. Fortunately for them, this isn’t 2014’s group, and they’ll likely run through their last two games. Score: Spain 3-1 Iran.
Portugal vs Iran: Monday, June 25th, 2pm
Portugal can secure their place as Group B winner, and they’ll do just that, despite an unexpected challenge from the Iranians. Score: Portugal 3-2 Iran.
Spain vs Morocco: Monday, June 25th, 2pm
Should these predictions come true, this game will be a contest to move on to the knockout round, with both teams coming in with 3 points apiece. Unfortunately for Morocco, Spain is simply much better than them, and will win a defensive slugfest. Score: Spain 1-0 Morocco.
- Portugal, 9 pts, +6
- Spain, 6 pts, +1
- Morocco, 3 pts, -3
- Iran, 0 pts, -5