On Friday night, close neighbours Portugal and Spain go head-to-head in a huge game in Group B, and with the two European giants the favourites to progress, this game could be pivotal in the race for first-place.
With the news on Wednesday coming from the Spanish FA that manager Julen Lopetegui has been sacked, following his agreement with Real Madrid, the European champions will be going into this game licking their lips.
However, Portugal do come into this game during a poor run of form, with wins in just two of their last six international fixtures. Fernando Hierro’s men, on the other hand, are unbeaten in 20 matches, despite a far from convincing win last time out, beating Tunisia 0-1.
The unbeaten 20 games have secured a comfortable qualification campaign, seeing them book their place in their 11th straight World Cup tournament. Spain have always been one of the favourites to lift the trophy, and this year will be no different, despite the managerial fiasco.
Portugal have a poor record at recent World Cup finals, having won just one of their last five matches. In 2014, they had a really disappointing group stage and finished 3rd below Ghana. Furthermore, in 2010, they met Spain for the first time in a World Cup and were defeated 1-0 by the eventual winners.
Spain have a lot to prove at this tournament after they exited in the group stage in South America last time around. They were embarrassed 5-1 by the Netherlands and pipped to second place by Chile, a quite shameful turn of events for the current holders at the time.
Portugal go into this clash with no injury worries. With Cristiano Ronaldo getting over a slight knock, he is expected to star for them once again.
Spain’s only concern comes at right-back, with Dani Carvajal having still not recovered from his Champions League final knock against Liverpool. This could mean Cesar Azpilicueta or Nacho Fernandez fill in at right-back.
The key man for Portugal is, of course, Ronaldo, with the Real Madrid forward scoring 13 goals in qualifying. He is again expected to lead the line and captain the Portuguese.
Spain’s key man, or key men, also need no introduction. Sergio Ramos commanding the back four is paramount to winning big matches, and history suggests he will take no prisoners even on his club teammate Ronaldo. Additionally, another key man for Spain is midfielder, David Silva. If anybody is going to break down a strong Portugal defence, it’s the Manchester City star. Spain could have an enjoyable afternoon if Silva can penetrate Portugal’s backline.
Spain are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as followed:
De Gea, Alba, Pique, Ramos, Azpilicueta, Busquets, Thiago, Iniesta, Silva, Isco, Costa.
This appears to be a team with the right mix of experience and youth; a very strong backline and a fierce attacking force.
Furthermore, Portugal are expected to line up in a 4-2-2-2 formation:
Patrício, Soares, Alves, Pepe, Guerreiro, Carvalho, Moutinho, Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Guedes, Cristiano Ronaldo.
This game promises to have goals at either end, but I wonder if both managers will settle for a draw if it’s level at the 70-minute mark. A defeat would leave either nation under a lot of pressure going into must-win games against Iran and Morocco.
Wins, however, would surely secure at least a second-place finish and a place in the round of 16.
Source: Jordi Holden