The first major clash of the 2018 World Cup will take place on Friday evening in Sochi with the all-Iberian clash between Spain and Portugal, as the 2010 winners meet the reigning European Champions. Spain are favoured by many to reach the Quarter-Final as well, whilst Portugal are also expected to go deep into the tournament.
After their shock early exit from Brazil 2014, Spain, under Julen Lopetgui, have bounced back and can draw from a solid core of players from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico, with the likes of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos, Isco, and Jordi Alba, supplemented by Premier League stars like David Silva and David de Gea in goal.
And then there is Andres Iniesta, scorer of the 2010 World Cup winner, and who has recently left Barcelona, returning for one last hurrah on the international stage.
The team breezed through qualifying, knocking out Italy on the way, and forced the world to take notice when they thrashed Argentina 6–1 in a friendly in Madrid in March.
Meanwhile Portugal, led again by the wily Fernando Santos, will be looking one more to their captain and talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, top provide inspiration and goals.
However, they are by no means a one main team. Experienced heads from the victorious 2016 team in the shape of vice-captain Pepe, Rui Patricio and Raphael Guerreiro will again be there, boosted by rising young talent like Barnardo Silva of Manchester City, AC Milan’s Andre Silva, and Sporting Lisbon winger Gelson Martins.
The game may be coming too early in the tournament for either side to show their best form, but should still be a fascinating watch. Whilst a draw may not be the worst outcome for either side, it means that it will be down to their results against the other two teams in the group, Morocco and Iran, to decide who tops the Group and has the easier path to qualification in the knock-out phases.
Portugal v Spain Predictions:Less than 2.5 Goals in the Game