World Cup 2018: 5 must-watch group stage fixtures
After 868 games between 209 teams that spanned more than two years, the 32 titans are ready and waiting to make their mark at the FIFA World Cup 2018, to be held in Russia. With just seven days left for the footballing extravaganza, the excitement levels are increasing exponentially. Thanks to a new pre-draw distribution of teams, the 2018 tournament will be without the long-standing World Cup culture - the 'Group of Death'
In the previous tournaments, qualified teams were divided into four pots, with Pot A holding the top seven teams in the FIFA rankings and the host, and the other three pots divided by federation. That led to the formation of groups that contained two to three powerhouses, like the last time, when three former World Cup champions, England, Italy, and Uruguay, were all drawn into the same group. Of course, it was Costa Rica who managed to best the three in the last edition.
While the new system may mean the draws are fairer than in previous tournaments, it also means not as much group-stage excitement. Yet, there are a few games that one should keep an eye out for, which might turn out to be World Cup classics.
Spain vs. Portugal - June 15Spain vs. Portugal
Dubbed as the Iberian derby, this is one of the most fiercely contested games on the international stage. The last time these two sides met in an international tournament was 6 years ago, when Spain beat Portugal, 4-2 on penalties, in the semifinals of Euro 2012 which they went on to win. One of the most eagerly awaited clashes of the tournament is when the reigning Euro 2016 champions take on the former world champions and favorites, Spain on June 15.
While Spain are hailed as favourites, it would be foolish to write off Portugal, who showed the world what they could do in Euro 2016. Limping into the knockouts of the competition, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal ripped through the knockout-stages, eventually beating the hosts France in the finals to record a memorable triumph.