Portugal vs Spain Preview: Sochi Lays Down the Carpet for the 'Iberian Derby'
The FIFA World Cup got off to a rollicking start with Russia hammering 5 goals past a hapless Saudi Arabian team. This match has laid down the marker and one should expect the goals to flow, just like they did 4 years ago in Brazil. The second day promises to be as enthralling, if not more. All eyes will certainly be glued to the ‘Iberian Derby’: Spain vs Portugal.
Spain came into the tournament as one of the favorites along with France, Germany, and Brazil. However, a couple of uninspiring performances along with the sacking of their manager, Julen Lopetegui, has placed them in troubled waters, even before the World Cup began. In Fernando Hierro, Spain have a manager well-versed with their philosophy. On paper, Spain seem to have the perfect blend of youth and experience, but a World Cup is never won ‘on paper’. At this juncture, it seems a herculean task for Spain to reclaim the ‘ultimate prize’.
Spain has a pretty settled line-up and the only doubtful positions are those of the Striker and Right Back. Though Carvajal injured his hamstring in the Champions League final, he is expected to be fit and raring to go up against his club-mate, Cristiano Ronaldo. For the striker position, it is a toss-up between Rodrigo and Diego Costa. The midfield should comprise of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and Thiago Alcantara, while David Silva and Isco are certainties to be a part of the front three. The defence will be marshaled by Sergio Ramos, who will have Gerard Pique as his defensive partner with Jordi Alba providing the width on the left flank.
On the other hand, Portugal have had a low-key build-up to the tournament. They have not been earmarked as ‘favorites’, with people rather tagging them as ‘outsiders’ to attain glory. They hit form in their last warm-up game against Algeria, which ended 3-0 in their favor. A lot of Portugal’s hopes would again be pinned on Cristiano Ronaldo and they would hope their talisman can come up with the goods. Portugal will be hard to break, they will defend with men behind the ball and then pounce on the counter attacks. This mantra worked for them at Euro 2016, and there is no need for them to mend something that isn’t broken.
Rui Patricio is expected to start in goal, with Pepe and Fernandes ahead of him. Soares and Raphael Guerrero would be entrusted with the Full Back duties while William Carvalho and Joao Mario will form the Central Midfield pairing. They are primed to line up in a flat 4-4-2 with Bernardo Silva and Gelson Martins hogging the touchline. Either of Andre Silva or Goncalo Guedes will lead the line.
This match will follow a predictable pattern with Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession and Portugal waiting for their opportunity to spring the counter. Spain have added a certain level of directness to their play recently and this represents the biggest threat for Portugal. The prospect of Diego Costa and Pepe locking horns is a delicious one indeed.
The battle will eventually be decided by how Portugal can handle Spain’s midfield and if their Defensive Midfielders can cut out the space between the lines. If Portugal are successful in this tactic, this will lead to Spain over-committing men and leaving themselves open to the counter. It is here that Portugal can strike the body blow and take the wind out of Spain’s sails.
As for predictions for this game, I would like to predict a 2-1 victory to Spain. I also expect David Silva and Isco to have a cracker for Spain, while Bernardo will be pulling the strings for Portugal. It promises to be another closely-fought encounter. The ‘Iberian Derby- XXXVII’ will surely be one to remember.